Tuesday, November 01, 2005

A Kiss and a Hickey? :)

When I first started this blog I vowed that I wouldn't write about books that were just mediocre reads for me, and for the best part of 7 months I have kept this promise to myself, however, I have now decided to blog most everything I read, even if the books didn't impress me. "The Painted Kiss" by Elizabeth Hickey is one of those books. The narrator is Emilie Flöge, one of Vienna's best known dress designers in the 1920's , and she tells not only of her life but the life of Gustav Klimt, the multi-talented Viennese painter with whom she has a close friendship(the book suggests they were lovers). Most of the story is told via flashbacks from her WWII hideaway in the Austrian countryside in 1944 where she has transported Gustav's drawings.

Gustav and Emilie first met when Emilie was a young girl of twelve years. Her father decided that Gustav should give her drawing lessons. She was very intimidated by him at first,but as time went on she grew to trust him and very often she and her sister Helene would sneak out of the house to model for Gustav and his brother. Their lives become irrevocably bound together when Helene married Ernst. When Klimt's brother died, leaving Helene a young widow with a baby, Emilie and Gustav shared responsibilities for their niece.

As Emile grew into a young lady she realized she was falling in love with Gustav. Not only was he her art teacher, but to a large extent, by exposing her to his posse of artist friends, models, businessmen etc., he was teaching her about life. Emilie never had the courage to tell him what he meant to her because he was such an important man, so well-known and so popular with the ladies, she didn't think he'd ever return her love. As for Gustav, it is apparent from the book that he loved Emilie too, after all, it was her name he uttered on his death bed, but I never quite figured out why he never told her in his lifetime.

Dispite having such appealing subjects-Gustav, the overly sexual and passionate painter , Emilie his demure muse and Vienna of the early 19th century where saloons, elegant cafés and grand opera houses flourished and avant-garde painters, philosophers etc. flocked to it in abundance, this book doesn't really come alive at any time. Sure, Elizabeth Hickey had very few details to work with, after all, not much is known about Gustav Klint and many of his drawings were destroyed by the Nazis during World War 2. (The story goes that when Hitler was a rising politician, he summoned Klimt to his presence, demanding a private viewing of the artist's works — that is, until the Fuhrer realized how many of Klimt's subjects were Jewish. Suddenly, the paintings lost their value for him.) The author has valiantly tried to fill in the blank spaces of Gustav's life with imaginative detail but it still doesn't make for a rivetting read, atleast not for me.

However, I did enjoy how she wove a story around some of Klimt's best known pieces, like, "Reclining Nude,1888", "Sleeping Girl-1889", "Study for Adele Bloch-Bauer, 1903" and last but certainly not least, "The Kiss, 1907". Klimt's paintings were always very erotic and sensual, and at the same time, bright and overflowing with passion. The book jacket, which to my regret is the only painting of Gustav featured in the book, is a portrait of Emilie Flöge. She stands tall and lean with her hand on her hip in a dress designed by her.

For "The Kiss" (pictured left), Gustav was supposed to have painted himself along with Emilie, but as the painting progressed he found he just couldn't because it would be a declaration of what he felt for Emilie and he didn't want people to know. Why? I am not sure and the author doesn't tell us either.

This was an easy read but one that didn't do much for me. I felt that a character as colorful as Klimt's should have inspired a livelier book, but that's just me.

To enjoy Klimt's paintings, go here