In Gustav Klimt's portrait II of Adele Bloch-Bauer the colors and style of painting likely refers to
early 20th century Chinese Mille Fleures Imperial type porcelains.
(The Adele portrait is from Wikipedia. The detail from a porcelain is from my personal photograph by son-in-law Samuel Edge. The vase is now on loan to The Jordan Schnitzer Art Museum on the University of Oregon campus in Eugene, Oregon)
The Golden Girl, The Extraordinary Tale of Gustav Klimt's Masterpiece, Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer by Anne-Marie O'Conner is a scholarly book by a journalist. From my painter's perspective and my Jewish grandfather's knowledge of the Silk Road influences to European art the esoteric symbolism was missed by O'Conner.
The second Adele Bloch-Bauer portrait (1912) is a special piece of historic symbolism. The background colors are the same as on Chinese porcelain Adele was known to collect. Some colors were developed in the Levant and Europe carried to Asia by Arab and Jewish traders. In the 19th Century improvement in color s was assisted by the Jesuits. The Chinese figures and flowers in the background are in the style of Chinese porcelain painters making the portrait painting symbolic of the back and forth exchange of technology and artistic inspiration between East and West. With China's current interest in the Silk Road perhaps the painting will become part of the tourist experience.Probably the gold leaf in both Adele portraits has special significance as on the porcelain vase. According to my grandfather the gold in the negative area is like the gold thread that connects life past, present and future. Gold leaf on the edge of pages in a book makes each page precious page symbolic of a day of life.
Am I going too far to see Adel likened to a porcelain vessel? Her skin as luminously white as china? The rim of her hat - the abundantly flaring lip of a vase edged in white? White symbolizes mourning. The red is symbolic of virtue and truth. Black symbolizes bruising and evil according to the book, Outlines of Chinese Symbolism and Art Motives by C.A.S. Williams, first edition 1931. The stylization of her body - the body of the vase with arm and hands the handle? The tiny feet the base of the vase?
To see more of Klimt's paintings and see a bio look at this web site:
Future posts will cover how other master artists have employed negative space.