A woman bows her head, eyes shut, praying over her bulging womb. Peeping out from the rim of her swollen belly is a skull’s head, an omen hovering over the unborn. At her feet, three women with bowed heads raise their hands in prayer—their sobriety implies mourning, as if they foresaw the child’s fate. This is one of the greatest Gustav Klimt paintings ever made in the pre-modern era
This prophetic painting is titled “Hope, II.”
Why would “Hope” apply to a scene of expectant fatalism? There’s a method to Gustav Klimt’s paradoxical aesthetic.
“Hope, II” recalls his earlier, related painting of a pregnant woman “Hope.” By association with its predecessor, this was Hope, II, revealing Klimt’s pattern of pregnant women and the weight of hope they carried in their wombs.
The unborn child here is the embodiment of the nominal hope, but it has death looming over it.
Hope, a great attribute of Gustav Klimt paintings
In this atmosphere of maternal anxiety, Klimt displays a Freudian flavor to manifest Sigmund Freud’s explorations of the child within every adult persona. Klimt lived and worked in the turn-of-the-century Vienna, home to Freud, and thus was in proximity of this psychoanalytic inspiration.
Gustav Klimt paintings often investigate formative drives, like sex and death, mirrors Freud’s studies of the psyche. Through the Freudian lens, what does the child within the woman reveal?
Pregnant women in art are seldom visible
Woman and children make appearances in many historical portraits, but the pregnant mothers, as well as the notion of pregnancy, are curiously invisible and exist outside the artistic consciousness.
Why Hope II is special?
By featuring this expectant mother to the center-stage, Klimt parades the splendor of hope about to emerge.
But by giving her death as a companion, Klimt forces us to confront the reality of birth and death within the same frame.The woman is entrapped in the irony between the commencement and the endgame of life, poised beneath the possibility of a ‘healthy birth’ or the ‘tragic premature demise’ of her child.
To balance out the solemn gravity, Klimt adorns this woman in a stark richness. The woman’s gold-patterned robe—drawn flat, as clothes are in Russian icons, although her skin is rounded and dimensional—has an extraordinary decorative beauty. Gustav Klimt paintings are another great example of great convergence of technique, pattern and colors
Devoted to his craftwork, Klimt was among the many artists of his time who united old-fashioned traditions—like his Byzantine gold leaf painting—with a modern psychological subject.
Birth and death exist side-by-side, suspended in equilibrium, collaborators in the appetite of living. The Power of art and a curious subject like – pregnant women in art – truly executed by Klimt. Respect!