Original framed oil on canvas reproduction of Gustav Klimt's painting "The Friends"
Klimt's appreciation reached a high
point around 1917 with such paintings as "The Friends." Of course,
iconographical borrowing, the mainstay of his earliest commissions, was
not new to the artist, nor was he a stranger to Japanese design.
Throughout the mosaic period he had explored ambigous figure/ground
relationships similar to those seen in Japanese prints, combined with
his own style, leading to lusher, more densely impastoed surfaces. The
orange robe, pink wallpaper and rosy flesh of "The Friends" are all
handled with the same buttery strokes, and so, the background acquires a
pictorial presence that makes it as "real" as the main subjects. It is
impossible to determine whether the women and their feathered
companions occupy the same plane, since background so seemlessly blends
with foreground. Thematically, of course, the subject of "The Friends"
was a recapitulation of the lesbian imagery that had recurred in Klimt's
work ever since 1904's "Water Serpents I." However, the world in which
"The Friends" dwell seems a much less forbidding place than that of the
"Water Serpents." Despite the surreal, spatial qualities, it is
evident that this couple lives with us above ground. Both faces engage
the viewer sympathetically. The feeling between them is less erotic
passion than tender affection, and given a yin/yang quality of
inevitability. This dualism is expressed both by their appearances- one
clothed and one nude- and by the birds that flank them. On the left is
a fantastic phoenix, symbol of regeneration, while on the right are the
inevitable forces of doom, the raven and the evil, red-eyed swan. The
subject has become symbolic of the eternal human predicament, a couple
whose situation, far from being anomalous, assumes a prototypical
magnitude. The original, tragically was destroyed in fire by retreating
Nazis in 1945.