• gerard van weyenbergh

Klimt's Beethoven Frieze

Angels with trumpets and demons with trombones. In 34 meters ( 112 '!!!)of frieze, Gustav Klimt (1862–1918) echoes Beethoven's Ninth Symphony in its most ambitious composition, where gold, mother-of-pearl, and color-ring in Sibylline accents on large sections of a white wall. A time for grace, where sinuous bodies of women gravitate in height, enjoining the golden knight to fight their fight. The climax is reached in this central wall, where the evil powers are concentrated around the ape-like figure of Typhon, in a setting as sumptuous as it is chaotic. A new long time, where Geniuses and Poetry intersect and, finally, the denouement is celebrating triumphant love in Ode to Joy. Klimt succeeds in accomplishing the secessionist dream: to merge painting, music, and architecture to which we must add goldsmithing in the same place.

What there is to know

The Beethoven Frieze was the centerpiece of the Fourteenth Exhibition of the Vienna Secession in 1902, dedicated to Ludwig van Beethoven. Placed in the heights of the hall, it welcomed visitors in the Secession Palace built five years earlier. The Friesland could well have been one of Klimt's lost masterpieces in the fire at Immendorf Castle in 1945, if it had not been separated from the rest of the collection during its plunder by the Nazis in 1938. Returned to its owner, Erich Lederer, after the war, the Austrian state bought it back in 1972 before exhibiting it at the Secession Palace fourteen years later. But in 2013, the Lederer heirs seized the Commission for Spoliated Property in Austria to denounce the conditions of sale and obtain new restitution. Appeal rejected in 2015 by the said Commission: the Beethoven Frieze has therefore definitively found its place in its cradle.

Where to see her?

Belonging to the national collections, the Beethoven Frieze is therefore exhibited, as in 1902, at the Secession Palace of which it is the main attraction.

Beethoven frieze

Gustav Klimt

1901-1902

Casein paints, stucco coatings, pencil, applications in various materials (glass, mother-of-pearl, etc.), and gold plating on mortar

215 x 3414 cm

Secession Palace, Vienna © Beaux Arts