The Israel Museum announced on Tuesday the acquisition of Gustav Klimt’s Die Medizin (Kompositionsentwurf) (1897-1898), the artist’s only remaining oil study for a controversial series of monumental paintings created for the University of Vienna’s Great Hall.
Commissioned by Austria’s Ministry of Culture and Education in 1894, Die Medizin is one of three allegorical panels representing the themes of enlightenment Klimt developed for the Great Hall’s ceiling. All three works were later destroyed by retreating German SS forces in May 1945.
Blending elements of neo-Baroque and Secessionist aesthetics, the work captures the emergence of Klimt’s iconic style and unconventional treatment of subject matter and themes. Representing a seminal moment in the artist’s development, this acquisition is the first painting by Klimt to enter the collection, joining several works on paper. It is on display in the Museum’s 19th century, Impressionist, and Post-Impressionist galleries, within the context of the Museum’s presentation of fine art from the Renaissance through the 20th century.
A joint project by Klimt and fellow artist Franz Matsch, the paintings for the Great Hall were commissioned to celebrate each of the faculties of the University of Vienna. Titled The Triumph of Light over Darkness, the series included a large central canvas devoted to enlightenment and four surrounding paintings depicting philosophy, medicine, jurisprudence, and theology.
When presented to the Ministry of Culture and Education at the University of Vienna, Klimt’s depiction of Medicine was condemned for its use of nudity and its radical treatment of the subject. This controversy continued when the final version was displayed at the Tenth Vienna Secession exhibition in 1901, which prompted infuriated responses from the public, particularly among the doctors in attendance, leading to the University’s decision against installing the works in the Great Hall.
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