Recently watched a program on Ovation highlighting the controversy surrounding the rightful possession of Gustav Klimt’s portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer and some of his other works. Wanting to keep the art theme current, I decided to read this book, which chronicles the life of Emilie Flöge, the sister-in-law and long time companion of Gustav Klimt. Historically, no one really knows how deep their relationship went, but during his final illness, he wanted her by his side. It’s also speculated that she was the model for the woman in The Kiss
. Basically, this novel offers an interpretation of these facts—of Emilie’s life with Klimt.
The best part of the book is the beginning, chronicling Emilie’s childhood. The author paints a rather good impression of a precocious twelve year-old. I rather enjoyed Emilie’s observations of Klimt’s character, silently taking pleasure at his disheveled appearance and his slovenly habits at the dinner table… talking while eating, choking on his wine, watching as bits of food drop off his fork and onto his lap—her way of exacting revenge against the unflattering portrait he’s made of her. :-)
However, I didn’t at all like how Emilie’s portrayed as an adult… this woman pining for Klimt’s affections, helplessly in love with him. I found it creepy especially considering how roughly he treats her. It’s one of those situations of “He loves her as he can love.” It seems that Klimt’s affection for her is mostly silent. Emilie tries to look into his art—his portraits of her—as a means to gauge the extent of his feelings towards her, but finds it difficult. She sees him building her up into something she’s not. Yet she loves him anyway. I don’t know….
While it’s an interesting interpretation, I was hoping for more than I got. Personally, I feel that Klimt’s own photos of Emilie show more depth of feeling than the sentiments expressed in the novel.