Klimt : Reflections

The Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam and the Österreichische Galerie Belvedere in Vienna are jointly preparing an exhibition with the preliminary title Reflections: Gustav Klimt in International Context (2018/2019). The exhibition and accompanying scholarly publication will focus on the influence of international avant-garde artists on Gustav Klimt (1862-1918). As a researcher for the Van Gogh Museum, ESNA secretary Lisa Smit spent the Autumn of 2015 at various research institutions and archives of Vienna. In this blog, she reflects on her experiences.


Spending time abroad to do research is an enriching experience for any art-historical researcher. It is a unique way to investigate a particular field of interest more in-depth with the benefit of doing so in a cross-cultural setting. It enables you to fully indulge in your research without the distractions inevitably faced at home. A big bonus is the empowering feeling of being on your own and managing just fine.

My first challenge was to familiarize myself with the do’s and don’ts of Austria’s curatorial scene. The right introductions and the support of the widely known name of the Van Gogh Museum on my business card opened many doors. I got in touch with some of the household names of „Vienna 1900“ scholarship, and had inspiring meetings and conversations with many museum curators, (independent) researchers, collectors and gallerists in the field. What a rewarding experience it has been, to lay the foundations of my research on the shoulders of these giants.

I conducted my research in various libraries, archives and research centers. Like any researcher, I experienced both frustrating days with zero result, and exciting moments when you discover hidden gems in unexpected places. I sifted through endless volumes of non-digitized newspaper feuilletons and contemporary periodicals. Fairly quickly, I got adjusted to the gothic print and I developed techniques to speed up the work. I compiled exhibition photographs as well as exhibition catalogues, and played ‘Guess the Picture’ to determine which art works Klimt might have actually seen. In doing so, I made headway in mapping the presence of avant-garde artists such as Vincent van Gogh, James Mc Neill Whistler, and Giovanni Segantini in Vienna around 1900.

My time in Vienna was a Totalerlebnis. Time and again, I visited Klimt’s Beethoven Freeze, his painted ceilings at the Burgtheater and the splendid selection of his paintings at the Belvedere. I spent my Sunday afternoons in Vienna’s coffee houses eating Sachertorte or Suppentopf, and went to see the theatre plays Professor Bernhardi by Arthur Schnitzler and Karl Kraus’ Die letzten Tage der Menschheit at the Burgtheater. I even paid visits to Klimt’s former studio and his grave in Hietzing. My evenings were spent reading the biographies of the women surrounding Klimt, e.g. Berta Zuckerkandl, Hermine Gallia, Margaret Stonborough-Wittgenstein, and Emilie Flöge. And in October, I came face to face with these ladies at the exhibition Klimt | Schiele | Kokoschka und die Frauen at the Belvedere. What’s more, I further explored the former Hapsburg Empire by visiting Budapest, Salzburg, Innsbruck and Bad Ischl. I even took a short break at the Attersee, where Klimt spent so many summer holidays with his beloved Emilie Flöge, and where he painted most of his landscapes.

After three months, I returned home feeling like a soaked sponge, having absorbed all the information I could lay my hands on. I now knew which direction the research should take, and was ready to share my newly gained insights with the colleagues at home for the benefit of our exhibition.

To conclude, some wise words from a fellow-researcher:

– Gemeinsames Wissen ist vermehrtes Wissen –


Lisa Smit – junior researcher Van Gogh Museum | secretary ESNA