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MYSTERY OF THE LOST KLIMT

MEDICINE (1901)

Burnt by the SS in the Immendorf Castle

Gustav Klimt, "Jurisprudence" (1903-1907)
Gustav Klimt, "Philosophy" (1899-1907)
Gustav Klimt, "Medicine" (ca. 1900-1907)

"MEDICINE", A SCANDALOUS PAINTING

Gustav Klimt is one of the most celebrated artists in the world and a key figure in the Vienna Secession. In 1892, after the trauma caused by the deaths of his father and brother, Klimt revolutionized his art and produced a series of works studded with sensual and elegant female figures.It is a triumph of goddesses, mythological figures and powerful women, often considered too realistic and provocative by his contemporaries.

In 1894,Klimt was commissioned to create a series of allegories for the ceiling of the Great Hall in the University of Vienna. The canvases were to depict the athenaeum faculty, glorifying the rational sciences and their positive effects on society. Jurisprudence, Philosophy, and “Medicine” are the three subjects finished by the artist, who openly refused to supply a rational vision of the world.

Medicine“, in fact, does not celebrate the revolutionary achievements in the field of “Medicine“, rather it depicts humanity on the edge of the abyss; victim of a social, political and psychological crisis. It is a flow of naked bodies, raw and realistic, worn out by sickness and powerless against the inexorable force of time. It represents the succession of events of human existence, from the creation to the disintegration of life itself. It is a radical and unusual painting

Gustav Klimt, "Jurisprudence" (1903-1907)
Gustav Klimt, "Philosophy" (1899-1907)
Gustav Klimt, "Medicine" (ca. 1900-1907)
Adam Lowe, Director of Factum Arte
Invitation to Klimt's exhibition organized by the nazi governor of Vienna
Exhibition dedicated to Klimt, Vienna 1943

The painting is revolutionary, not just in its content, but also in its use of gold, a material that Klimt felt a special affinity for due to his training and work with his father, a goldsmith and engraver. After 6 years of intense work, the result was considered offensive and the paintings were never hung in the University of Vienna. In 1901 the work was condemned as pornographic, both for its representation of nudes and for the distorted vision it offered of the medical sciences, which are depicted by Klimt as impotent. From that moment on,Klimt refused all public commissions and worked exclusively for wealthy private patrons, many of whom were of Jewish origin. With the rise of Nazism and its racial policies, Klimt’s main patrons were arrested and their collections plundered. The University paintings reappeared in public only in 1943, in a large retrospective exhibition on Klimt, which aimed to elevate the artist as an icon of the Germanic tradition. This is the last time that the University paintings were shown in public. In March 1943, when Vienna became a target for allied bombing, 13 or 14 works by Klimt were moved to a little-known castle in the remotest area of Austria where, everyone believed, they would be safe.

Invitation to Klimt's exhibition organized by the nazi governor of Vienna
Exhibition dedicated to Klimt, Vienna 1943
Immendorf Castle

THE BURNING OF IMMENDORF

7th May 1945. During the last hours of the Second World War, a Nazi SS unit in retreat following the German surrender, decides to pass the last night of the war in a castle of Northern Austria; the Immendorf castle. Here, the officers find an incredible hoard of hidden works of art that were brought here for safekeeping from the bombardments and, among these, works by Gustav Klimt including “Medicine“.

That night, the SS officers, in the fear that these works might fall into the hands of the Russians, started a fireto destroy the whole castle and the precious collection that was stored within it.

Some theories argue however that something may have been saved, possibly these very paintings.The painting by Klimt may have been smuggled out and saved by the local residents.

According to others, the painting may actually be in some a collection in Austria or Germany, hidden out of fear for legal repercussions or the reputational damage that its eventual recovery would generate for anyone who may have had it in their possession all these years. Despite the rumors that say paintings removed from Immendorf castle are still in circulation today, no one has seen Klimt’s masterpiece since.

Immendorf Castle
Gesso application on the canvas before the printing of the black and white photo
An expert from Factum Arte working on the black and white version of the painting
Detail after the application of colors with an airbrush and oil paint, in one of the early stages
Detail after the application of colors with an airbrush and oil paint, in one of the early stages

THE REBIRTH FROM THE ASHES

Seventy years later, Factum Arte’s international team of art experts have been working to bring Klimt’s lost masterpiece, “Medicine“, back to life.
Although the paintings were destroyed, a black and white photo from the thirties and a color print of a small section of the painting have survived.
The first step for the reconstruction was to print the black and white image on a 430×300 cm canvas prepared with gesso, that served as a guide for the re-materialization of the painting and the depth of the tones used. To recreate the exact palette of colors used by Klimt in the work, the original preparatory sketches for “Medicine” were observed and studied.

Starting from the center of the canvas, the Factum Arte team created an initial version of the painting in black and white using an airbrush to cover up pixelation of the photo, followed by the reproduction of the color by combining the use of the airbrush and the traditional technique of oil painting.

Gesso application on the canvas before the printing of the black and white photo
An expert from Factum Arte working on the black and white version of the painting
Detail after the application of colors with an airbrush and oil paint, in one of the early stages
Detail after the application of colors with an airbrush and oil paint, in one of the early stages
Alfred Weidinger, Director of the Museum der Bildenden Künste, Leipzig
Gilding process of some details of the painting
Re-materialization of "Medicine" at Factum Arte's laboratory
Printing phase of "Medicine" at Factum Arte

The airbrush was used in areas where transparencies or softer tones were required, as well as to create looser, flowing strokes. The paintbrush was used for details, or where the brushstrokes had to be smaller, such as in the pale background. It was particularly challenging to make sure that the figures did not appear disjointed from their surroundings in the vast canvas and a lot of effort was put into building up shadows and light sources.

At that point the recreated color version of the painting was photographed in high resolution and digitally overlaid on the only existing black and white photograph. Advanced techniques of analysis allowed the experts to compare Klimt’s brushstrokes with those authored by the Factum Arte team and retouch the latter to bring it as close as possible to the style of the Viennese artist. They then concentrated on Klimt’s signature that is incorporated in the final version, ready to be printed and to move on to the complicated process of gilding.

Like many of Klimt’s works, “Medicine” included, gold leaf and originally gilded areas were identified by studying the black-and-white image. These areas were left blank when painting the recreation. Based once again on clear evidence from the image, paste was applied onto some of these areas in order to give them volume.
Factum’s gilders used a traditional oil-based size gilding technique to apply 22 carat gold leaf. In this process, an oil and solvent-based mixture was applied evenly with a brush onto the surface. The mixture was allowed to set for a number of hours, after which the very thin leaf was be carefully laid onto the surface. Once dry, the gold was polished with a soft cloth.

In the case of “Medicine“, small details were finished using oil paint over the gold leaf before varnishing the painting.

Gilding process of some details of the painting
Re-materialization of "Medicine" at Factum Arte's laboratory
Printing phase of "Medicine" at Factum Arte
Adam Lowe, Director of Factum Arte
Adam Lowe with expert Alfred Weidinger

RECREATION OF
MEDICINE

Digital Recreation of Gustav Klimt’s “Medicine” (1900 – 1907)
2017 Pigment, gold leaves and gesso on canvas
Recreation by Factum Arte