The Painted Kiss
Gustav Klimt, one of the great painters of fin de siècle Austria—and the subject of Helen Mirren’s latest film, Woman in Gold—takes center stage in this passionate and atmospheric debut novel, which reimagines the tumultuous relationship between the Viennese painter and Emilie Flöge, the woman who posed for his masterpiece The Kiss, and whose name he uttered with his dying breath.
Vienna in 1886 was a city of elegant cafés, grand opera houses, and a thriving and adventurous artistic community. It is here where the twelve-year-old Emilie meets the controversial libertine and painter. Hired by her bourgeois father for basic drawing lessons, Klimt introduces Emilie to a subculture of dissolute artists, wanton models, and decadent patrons that both terrifies and inspires her. The Painted Kiss follows Emilie as she blossoms from a naïve young girl to one of Europe's most exclusive couturiers—and Klimt's most beloved model and mistress. A provocative love story that brings to life Vienna's cultural milieu, The Painted Kiss is as compelling as a work by Klimt himself.
Hickey imagines the bonds between Gustav Klimt and his younger lover whose name he pronounced with his dying breath in her expressively written debut. Before Emilie Fl ge became the owner of a successful Viennese fashion house and Klimt became a famed, controversial painter, she was a privileged 12-year-old reluctantly taking drawing lessons and he was her starving artist teacher. From her WWII hideaway in the Austrian countryside in 1944, where she has transported Gustav's drawings ("all I could bring from Vienna... the only things of his to survive"), the aged Emilie flashes back to her fin-de-si cle hometown. Hickey traces the changing relationship between Klimt and his prot g from when she first became his art student as an adolescent through their on-again, off-again romance as she matures to their complicated relationship that culminates in the famed painting The Kiss. While the novel bears some obvious similarities to Girl with a Pearl Earring, it doesn't quite have that novel's power. But Hickey's language is sensual, lush and unhurried, and the prose wears its author's research gracefully.
Excellent, well written novel!
Renewed my interest in Klimt, and makes me want to plan a trip to Vienna soon.