An entry into the genre of books-about-famous-men-from-the-point-of-view-of-women-in-their-lives.
I love Klimt, and the whole arts-and-crafts movement that he was involved with. Oh, can I just say Art Nouveau? “Arts-and-Crafts” sounds like they were sitting around knitting and making macaroni mosaics or something. By coincidence, it was right after reading this that I went to see an exhibit of jewelry from the period at the Forbes Galleries. http://www.forbesgalleries.com/jewelrygallery.shtml SWOON! Now THAT’S what I’m talking about.
And, yay Wiener Werkstätte!
Anyway, after reading this book, I feel like I am much more enthused about the movement than Ms. Hickey is. I’m not really sure why she chose to write this book.
I thought it was quite well-written, however I disagreed with her characterizations of her historical characters – especially her main character, Emilie Flöge.
In reality, Emilie Flöge was an extremely talented, very intelligent, well-respected and well-to-do woman who was more than capable of making her own life choices. Obviously, we don’t know everything about her internal, emotional life, and this is a work of fiction. But Hickey insists on portraying this strong, successful woman as a naive, constantly self-doubting person who is taken advantage of by Gustav Klimt, who abuses her love for him and ruins any chance she had to have a happy life.
OK, this is vaguely possible. But, considering the historical facts, not likely. The evidence actually indicates that it is unlikely that Klimt and Flöge were lovers; they were more likely close/best friends. But Hickey seems to think that it is impossible for a man and a woman to simply be friends, and further, she doesn’t seem to comprehend that a woman might actually value her independence and have no particular desire to marry, especially in a society where marriage would mean giving up a great deal. Hickey’s book seems to give out the message: “Watch out, because if you waste time hanging out with a man who won’t commit to you, you will end up sad and lonely and abandoned.”
Now, it’s true enough that Flöge’s fortunes did decline in her later years – but I think that, in reality, we can lay that at the feet of Hitler, considering that Flöge was a Jewish woman in Austria during WWII.
Hickey also portrays Adele Bloch-Bauer in a very negative light, concentrating on her ‘illness’ and drawing her as a depressed, physically self-destructive person. Again, in reality, while Bloch-Bauer may have been ill (she had tuberculosis), she was also a strong, opinionated and intelligent woman, who effectively created the life she wanted for herself.
In addition, while it is undoubtedly true that Klimt had sex with a great many of his paid models as a matter of course (which was fairly usual, at the time – many artists’ models were also prostitutes), Hickey also alleges that Klimt refused to support his acknowledged children financially. It appears that this is untrue, and in reality he did support the children he acknowledged. After his death, many other people did claim to be children of Klimt, but it is unknown whether their claims were true.
So – while this was a pleasant-enough read, I wouldn’t really recommend it for those interested in learning more about these historical figures and their artistic work.