Gerlach's Allegorien, plate #66: "Tragedy" Lithograph, Gustav Klimt. - Print by Gustav Klimt
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Gustav Klimt
Gerlach's Allegorien, plate #66: "Tragedy" Lithograph, Gustav Klimt.



Gustav Klimt created this image for inclusion in Gerlach & Schenk’s Allegorien the year before he formed the Vienna Secession. While this design is similar to his other inclusions, Love and Junius, in that there is a central panel with areas highly saturated in color flanked by monochromatic panels characterized by a flat and linear style, this image speaks to Klimt’s specific time and circumstances. Tragedy is a seminal work. It is Klimt’s break-out piece. In the words of fellow Secessionist member, Otto Wagner, “the desire to show modern man his true face” was indeed a Secessionist tenet; however, it was not an easy one to achieve. For all of its splendor and new projects, such as the Ringstrasse, Burgtheater, Kunsthistorisches Museum and the University, leaders of Viennese society were conservative in nature and in many ways masked a reality that often was not a happy one. Beneath the facade of social correctness, glamour and opulence lurked a darker side to Viennese life where a separate code of conduct existed. Klimt’s masterful eye witnessed what was bubbling up from this syphilitic, neurotic and shadowy netherworld. While others contented themselves with turning a blind eye, to accept a double-standard, Klimt could not. By unmasking the central figure, the allegory of tragedy, only to reveal a face of ambiguity, Klimt gives a modern characterization to a timeless subject. The gold bracelet coiled around Tragedy’s wrist, her gold choker necklace and hoop earrings emphasize artifice and adornment. Tragedy means unhappy ending and the downfall of the main character. While the female figure on the left sleep-walks her way into a dragon, her corresponding figure on the right shields her eyes and cowers. In either case, the dragons’ talons and tails have them in their clutches. Whether oblivious or unwilling to look reality in the face, the same fate awaits. It is the first time a Japonist influence shows up in Klimt’s work, and it is especially telling that Klimt employs the dragon as both a specter which cannot be ignored and as a harbinger of a new artistic vehicle to combat the old guard. ALLEGORIEN-NEUE FOLGE, 1897, published by Gerlach & Schenk Verlag fur Kunst und Gewerbe, Vienna, was a serial publication that began as Allegorien und Embleme in 1882. A sourcebook of inspiration made for and by young Viennese artists became something of a galvanizer of the modernist movement in Vienna with its new series issued in 1897. Its publisher, Martin Gerlach, plucked young artists and even art students who were exploring the newest techniques in drafting and graphic design to contribute to his publication. This was the beginning of a long-standing relationship. In the forward to the 1897 edition, Gerlach, expounds upon the new approach which consciously shifted away from historicism rooted in the conservative Academy. Instead, the artists were encouraged to explore new subjects and new ways to present them. More unconventional subjects such as: Wine, Love, Song, Music and Dance; Arts and Sciences; the Seasons and their corresponding activities, sports and amusements, breathed fresh, modern life into the allegorical genre. Specific topics that were explored ranged from Electricity and new concepts of Work and Time to Bicycle Sport and the Graphic Arts. Essentially, the publication served as a portable forum for sharing and disseminating new ideas. Two contributors, a young Gustav Klimt and an even younger Koloman Moser, likely met through their involvement with Allegorien and found themselves to be like-minded artists. As a result, the two allied with other artists and architects in a dramatic and formal break with the established, conservative state-run arts (Kunstlerhausgenessenschaft) to found the Vienna Secession the very next year in 1898. Klimt became the Secession’s first President; while Moser, in 1903, expanded the group from a solely exhibition-based focus to include a workshop by co-founding the Wiener Werkstatte. Gerlach went on to publish some issues of the Secession’s journal called Ver Sacrum as well as postcards designed by its members. The Viennese art critic, Joseph August, called Gerlach the “Fuhrer der Moderne” (Leader of Modernism). The new 1897 series, featuring its innovative and modern art plates, is an important art historical document as it played a significant role in helping shape the avant-garde art movement in Vienna which exploded onto the scene with the formation of the Vienna Secession in 1898. Individually, the plates are important works; they are noteworthy for their stylistically and thematically modern approach. These plates offer some of the earliest examples of Viennese avant-garde and Secession artists’ published work.


  • Movement & Style
  • Condition
  • Condition Details
    See "Essential Klimt" by Laura Payne, 2001; pg 62.
  • Dimensions
    H 17.25 in. x W 13.75 in.H 43.82 cm x W 34.93 cm
  • Gallery Location
    Chicago, IL
  • Reference Number
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