If there is an artist capable of representing the extraordinary artistic vein that Austria possesses, that is Gustav Klimt. Many of his works are exhibited in Vienna in permanent exhibitions, in museums and artistic spaces that have become the destination of real pilgrimages, from the Belvedere to the Leopold Museum, from the Secession Building, in the Burgtheater, to the Museum of Art History.
Beside every great teacher there is always a muse, and for Klimt it was Emilie Louise Flöge, his friend, confidant and above all (so they say) lover. Born in Vienna in 1874, she was an independent woman, a successful entrepreneur in the fervor of Vienna in the early twentieth century, a metropolis full of stimuli and life. Intellectual and artistic center (in 1910 it had more than two million inhabitants), the city at the time was already an à la page outpost, like London and Paris. Together with her sisters Pauline and Helene, in 1904 Emilie had opened a haute couture atelier, “Schwestern Flöge”, in the “Small House” in Mariahilfer Strasse 1b, frequented by the Viennese upper class ladies, from Margarethe Stonborough-Wittgenstein to Clarisse Rothschild.
The atelier was an excellent example of Viennese modernism: from the label to the furniture, the boutique was a total work of art, commissioned from the Wiener Werkstätte and big names like Koloman Moser and Josef Hoffmann. Flöge’s style was revolutionary, with dresses with comfortable, soft and relaxed shapes, which finally freed women from the constrictions of the corset. In the turmoil of the capital, Klimt and Flöge were among the protagonists of the scene. In an ideal tour of their footsteps, you will inevitably visit the Belvedere, the sumptuous baroque style castle, wanted by Prince Eugene of Savoy, a great lover of art, who had a magnificent summer residence built by Johann Lukas von Hildebrandt, with an adjoining big garden. Today the Belvedere houses one of the most important collections of works of art in Austria (and in all of Europe), with 24 paintings by Klimt, including the masterpiece “The kiss”: it seems that Emilie is the mysterious protagonist of the painting.
It is also worth taking a walk on Mariahilfer Strasse, which once housed the Flöge atelier, today the young heart of Viennese life, teeming with designer shops, cafes and trendy clubs, a stone’s throw from the fervor of the MuseumsQuartier. But the secret refuge of the two artists was Lake Attersee, in Upper Austria, where they fled in search of peace, relaxation and inspiration. The Salzkammergut was already a very trendy place in the mid-nineteenth century, as it was frequented by the imperial family, a favorite holiday destination for artists and intellectuals.
We set off on the tracks of Flöge and Klimt, to reach Brauhof, a picturesque town in Litzlberg, where the two used to spend the summer. For a walk in nature, you can take the Gustav Klimt Themenweg, a themed path that leads you to retrace the places most loved by the couple. In Kammer you can admire Villa Oleander, a summer residence frequented for a period by the two: there is also the homonymous Castle, which deserves a trip to the corners of extraordinary beauty that it encloses.
Villa Paulick in Seewalchen was a house where they spent long summers. Property of the Flöge family, it overlooks the shores of the lake: today the villa is open to the public, you can take tours and even stay. It is worth visiting the nearby Gustav Klimt Center, along the boulevard of the Kammer-Schörfling castle, painted by the painter. Here is a beautiful permanent exhibition which bears the title of a nostalgic message written by Klimt in 1901, on a postcard addressed to his beloved Emilie Flöge. The artist, from Vienna, wrote to her friend who was already at the Attersee: “I have an extreme nostalgia, like I’ve never had!”.
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