Portrait Of Eugenia Primavesi

Gustave Klimt

Keywords: PortraitEugeniaPrimavesi

Work Overview

Portrait Of Eugenia Primavesi
Gustav Klimt
Date: 1913
Style: Art Nouveau (Modern)
Period: Late works
Genre: portrait
Measures: 140x 84 cm
Technique: Oil on canvas
Depository: Privately owned

Eugenia Primavesi (born Butschek) was married with Otto Primavesi a banker and industrialist in Olmütz and one of the main backers of the Wiener Werkstätte. Otto Primavesi had allready commisioned Josef Hoffman to modernize his bankhouse in Olmütz, his privat villa and a cottage in Winkelsdorf before he married Eugenia Primavesi a viennese actress. She had big influence over the art patronage of her husband who was buisnessmanager of the Wiener Werkstätten from 1915 to 1925. Her husband commisioned a portrait of his wife as well as from his daughter from Klimt. Otto Primavesi died in February 1926, in Mai the bankhouse in Olmütz went bankrupt.

Established in 1903, the Wiener Werkstätte (engl.: Vienna Workshop) was a production community of visual artists. The workshop brought together architects, artists and designers whose first commitment was to design art which would be accessible to everyone. The work most representative of the Wiener Werkstätte is probably the Stoclet Palace in Brussels. Wiener Werkstätte was established in 1903, as a production community of architects, artists and designers whose first commitment was to design art which would be accessible to everyone. The enterprise evolved from the Vienna Secession, founded in 1897 as a progressive alliance of artists and designers. From the start, the Secession had placed special emphasis on the applied arts, and its 1900 exhibition surveying the work of contemporary European design workshops prompted the young architect Josef Hoffmann and his artist friend Koloman Moser to consider establishing a similar enterprise. Finally in 1903, with backing from the industrialist Fritz Wärndorfer, the Wiener Werkstätte began operations in three small rooms, it soon expanded to fill a three-story building with separate, specially designed facilities for metalwork, leatherwork, bookbinding, woodworking and a paint shop. The undertaking had a clear aim: to make all facets of human life into one unified work of art. This began with the creation of extraordinarily advanced working conditions for the craftsmen, and it ended with the wish to create everything entirely anew for everyday practical use or decoration. It was also decided to approve objects of outstanding individuality and beauty, and with emphasis on fine craftsmanship. This followed the organisation's motto: "Better to work 10 days on one product than to manufacture 10 products in one day." The seat of the venture was in Neustiftgasse 32-34, where a new building was adapted to their requirements, the project eventually exhausted Wärndorfer's fortune. The enthusiasm with which the key figures threw themselves into exhibitions and fairs. With the encouragement of a well-wishing press the Wiener Werkstatte quickly gained an excellent and widespread reputation. The duo Hoffmann and Moser complemented each other so well, that for a time it was impossible to differentiate between their designs. The circle of customers of the Wiener Werkstatte and Josef Hoffmann's mainly consisted of artists and the open-minded, progressive and financially well-to-do Jewish upper middle class supporters of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Most of the objects produced in the Wiener Werkstatte were stamped with a number of different marks; the trademark of the Wiener Werkstatte, the monogram of the designer and that of the craftsman, who created it. The Wiener Werkstatte had about 100 employees in 1905, of whom 37 were masters of their trade. Branches were opened in; Karlsbad 1909, Marienbad, Zürich 1916/17, New York 1922, Berlin 1929. The Wiener Werkstätte's first years were heady times, during which the collaboration between Hoffmann and Moser reached its peak. The two artists created a geometric style whose functional simplicity anticipates later modernism and has influenced the work of many of today's leading designers and architects. Josef Hoffmann's significance as an early industrial designer for bentwood furniture can hardly be overestimated. He designed a furniture line noted for its simple forms and timeless elegance for the firm of Jacob & Josef Kohn. In architectural commissions such as the Purkersdorf Sanatorium and the lavish Palais Stoclet in Brussels, the Wiener Werkstätte was able to realize its ideal of the Gesamtkunstwerk (total artwork), a coordinated environment in which everything down to the last teaspoon was consciously designed as an integral part of the whole project. For several years, beginning in 1904, the Wiener Werkstätte had its own carpentry workshop. But only few pieces of furniture were made there. Most of the furniture known as Wiener Werkstätte Furniture were made by such excellent cabinet-makers as: Portois & Fix, Johann Soulek, Anton Herrgesell, Anton Pospisil, Friedrich Otto Schmidt and Johann Niedermoser. Some historians now believe that there are no existing original products of the Wiener Werkstätte Furniture division. From 1905, the Wiener Werkstatte produced handpainted and printed silks. The Backhausen firm was responsible for the machine-printed and woven textiles. It was during this period that Berthold Löffler and Carl Otto Czeschka, who both became associated with the Werkstätte and brought with them a renewed interest in figuration that had direct bearing on the early work of the Expressionist Oskar Kokoschka. The range of product lines also included; leather goods, enamel, jewellery, postcards and ceramics. The Wiener Werkstätte even had a millinery department. In 1907, the Wiener Werkstätte took over distribution for the Wiener Keramik, a ceramics workshop of kindred spirit headed by Michael Powolny and Berthold Löffler. And in the same year Moser, embittered by the financial squabbling, left the Wiener Werkstätte, which subsequently entered a new phase, both stylistically and economically. The founding of textile and fashion divisions in 1909 and 1910 brought a further shift in the Wiener Werkstätte's emphasis—away from the architectural and toward the ephemeral. After a close brush with bankruptcy in 1913, Wärndorfer was shipped off to America and the following year Otto Primavesi, a banker from Moravia, took over as chief financier and patron. The need for a perennial Milchkuh (cash cow) to provide a steady cash flow is often cited as symptomatic of the Wiener Werkstätte's economic naiveté, but in fact, the notion of an enlightened patron was central to the Werkstätte's operating philosophy. During and immediately following the First World War the Wiener Werkstatte was influenced by a new generation of artists and craftsmen. It was Dagobert Peche whose ornamental, almost baroque fancies exerted the most palpable influence. After the war, material shortages encouraged experimentation with less durable, less expensive materials such as wood, ceramics and papier-mâché. The original, grand Gesamtkunstwerk vision became diluted and submerged by the Kunstgewerbliches—the artsy-craftsy. The complete impoverishment of the truncated Austro-Hungarian Empire after World War I, undoubtedly played a significant role in the demise of the Wiener Werkstätte. Attempts to expand the workshop's scope—adding such items as wallpaper to its limited program of industrial licenses, and establishing branches in Berlin, New York and Zurich—were not particularly successful. The Werkstätte recognized early on that its role was not to reach the masses, but rather to create a rarefied environment for the wealthy few. So long as the Austro-Hungarian empire survived, whole and thriving, this goal was not particularly unrealistic. The Werkstätte's financial situation grew desperate due to the effects of the war and the onset of the world wide Depression in 1929. The situation was exacerbated by the rise of the Nazi party in the German Reichstag elections of September 1930 when the Nazis won 18.3% of the vote, and became the second-largest party in the Reichstag. On 20 July 1932, the Prussian government was ousted by a coup, known as the Preussenschlag, and a few days later at the July 1932 Reichstag election the Nazis polled 37.4 % of the vote and thus become, by a wide margin, the largest party in the Reichstag. Thereafter, the Nazi party's influence grew and the negative pressure the party brought to bear on the clients and supporters of the Werkstätte resulted in the liquidation of all of its assets the same year.

Gustav Klimt's radiant portrait of Eugenia (Mada) Primavesi from 1914, listed by scholars as lost since World War II, is to be sold at auction on Monday.

The portrait was completed at the same time as another painting by Klimt, of Mrs. Primavesi's daughter, also named Mada. The portrait of the daughter was sold by the family in the early 1930's and was given to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 1964. But the painting of the mother was thought to be lost until Miss Primavesi offered it for sale in February and disclosed that it had been in the family all these years.

Miss Primavesi said this week that she knew the painting was important and that scholars had listed it as ''whereabouts unknown,'' but that she valued her privacy and chose not to reveal where she or the work were.

Both portraits were executed by Klimt at his studio in Vienna, and both show the Austrian Expressionist painter's mature ''golden style.''

The spirited study of Miss Primavesi at the age of about 10, wearing a flower-embellished white party dress and white shoes, was sold by her family after a series of 1930's financial reverses. Today the portrait is in the Andre Meyer Galleries of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. On View Until Monday

Her mother's portrait, a glorious wash of Ravenna-mosaic colors, was consigned by Miss Primavesi to Sotheby's, York Avenue at 72d Street, where it is on view this weekend prior to its auction there Monday night. Sotheby's expects it will sell for $2 million to $3 million.

Miss Primavesi spoke by telephone this week from Canada about the painting of her mother and her own portrait. They were commissioned, she said, by her father, Otto Primavesi, a banker and glass manufacturer from Olmutz, Germany, now Olomouc, Czechoslovakia.

''We went every few months to Vienna and stayed about 10 days,'' Miss Primavesi said of the trips she made with her mother while the portraits were in progress. ''I was a little girl, and Professor Klimt was awfully kind. When I became impatient, he would just say, 'Sit for a few minutes longer.' He made at least 200 sketches.''

Miss Primavesi, who never married, explained that she was named Mada, or little girl, at birth - the nickname her mother had been called since her own childhood. The name appears in the title of both portraits. A 55-Year Gap

Miss Primavesi, probably the last living subject of a painting by the artist, who died in 1918, said her mother's portrait hung in their Olmutz home ''above the desk in the herz zimmer - my father's writing room.'' She could not remember, she added, where her portrait had been kept in that house. She had not seen it since it was sold in 1931 or 1932, she said, until late last year when she visited the Metropolitan Museum to view it.

''I asked Professor Klimt if he would write something in my book,'' she said of the autograph book she kept as a child. ''He wrote: 'The day is like night unless I see you. I am happier if I dream about you.' ''

Mr. Primavesi was also the principal backer of the Wiener Werstatte, the Vienna craft workshop, from 1912 into the 1920's. Miss Primavesi recalled that her parents gave lavish parties for Werkstatte artists and architects at their country house at Winkelsdorf. ''They would have these house parties and Klimt would wear these robes of the Wiener Werkstatte - pure silk robes. All the male guests wore these robes. It looked so colorful.''

Miss Primavesi said she decided to sell her mother's portrait after she had made her will. ''It is better for everybody to sell and divide the proceeds,'' she said, adding that she had a number of heirs.

The portrait of her mother has hung in her home since she immigrated to Canada in 1949. It was shipped in its original hammered silver frame, which, John L. Tancock, Sotheby's art specialist said, was probably designed by Georg Klimt, the artist's brother.

Miss Primavesi founded a convalescent hospital for children in Canada and worked there for 25 years, until about 10 years ago.