Lady in Yellow (1899)
Lady in Yellow is an oil painting created by Maximilian Kurzweil (1867-1916) in the late 19th century (1899) of his wife. The style of this painting is Art Nouveau and the artist has painted a portrait which represented the fashion and design which was popular during that period. This is seen in the way she dresses, with her full length dress which shows off her shoulders and her hair in a bun tied to the top of her head and the Art Nouveau sofa covered in floral patterns. Art Nouveau was seeking to modernise design and escape from the historical styles of the past. Maximilian Kurzweil was a co-founder of the sub-movement Vienna Secession, which had such artists at Gustav Klimt, who were objecting Historicism.
Although it is known that this was the artist’s wife, the title of the work makes you think otherwise. Because her name is not mentioned it gives the impression that there is a detachment between both of them. This idea is questioned more through the way the lady is holding and expressing herself, she looks at us with a questioning look as if she doubts the viewer, and creates this tension between her and the viewer who at the time would have been the artist. I feel it is important to acknowledge the artist’s past and that he committed suicide in 1916 with his lover and student because of private circumstances and his melancholy outlook on life.
That small amount of information allows us to build an understanding of what their relationship was like. The painting of her is beautiful, the yellow dress and her pale smooth skin makes her look desirable, she stands out from the dark floral sofa and the gloomy walls and floors and Kurzweil has acknowledged her beauty by creating that contrast. He has obviously accepted her beauty, however has also shown the hostility between her and him. She sits central to the sofa with arms stretched out, gripping on to the sides of the sofa with her legs closed together and her dress covering the remaining seating area. It isn’t welcoming and if you ignore the facial expression her body holds as if she is tired and has given up. She sits there, face titled and judges the viewer, analysing our every move. What intrigues me so much about that stare is the way it belittles you, you feel unimportant and undesired.
The longer you look at the lady in yellow the more you become involved in the narrative. Kurzweil has painted a window into a past but also present and future. He has drawn on an event that many will be able to relate to and upon interpreting reflect on themselves.