Saturday, 16 July 2011


“Mozart has the classic purity of light and the blue ocean; Beethoven the romantic grandeur which belongs to the storms of air and sea, and while the soul of Mozart seems to dwell on the ethereal peaks of Olympus, that of Beethoven climbs shuddering the storm-beaten sides of a Sinai. Blessed be they both! Each represents a moment of the ideal life, each does us good. Our love is due to both.” - Henri Frederic Amiel

After a frosty morning, the day bloomed into a perfect sunny winter’s day, warming up to about 14˚C. We had a leisurely breakfast and then ventured out to go and see our friend in the nursing home. One the way back we stopped at Coburg Lake. Coburg is a northern suburb of Melbourne and in the past one of its most notorious landmarks was Pentridge Prison. Coburg Lake is on the corner of Murray and Newlands Rds and this lake was originally created by prisoners from Pentridge Prison, which is only across the road. Its water comes from Merri Creek, which flows into the lake and then continues downstream past a weir, to join the Yarra River further south.

In the mid-19th century, Victoria’s gold rush brought about a greatly increased crime rate. The government decided to establish a number of penal stockades and also make use of abandoned ships. One of these stockades was set up at Pentridge (the old name for Coburg) to receive, in December 1850, sixteen prisoners from the overcrowded Melbourne Gaol. Pentridge was thought to be a good place for a prison, being near Melbourne, yet isolated from it. Moreover the village reserve was the only Crown Land left unsold. The purpose of the stockade was to provide labour for the construction of the newly proclaimed Sydney Road. There was a lot of bluestone in the area so the prisoners could do “hard labour” breaking up the stone and working on the unmade road.

Residents were frightened and angry because the stockade consisted only of log huts on wheels behind a low 1.2 metre wooden fence with prisoners guarded by an inadequate number of overseers. Because it was so insecure, mounted aboriginal troopers were employed to patrol its perimeter. The first superintendent of the stockade was Mr Samuel Barrow.

Prisoners worked, slept and were fed in chains. People passing sometimes talked to chain gangs working on the road and gave them tobacco. Prisoners slept on wooden benches and ate standing outside in all weather. Those who broke rules or refused to work were punished by wearing heavier irons or given solitary confinement on bread and water. Some were flogged. Prisoners could only have one letter or visit every three months. The worst punishment was to be sent to the hulks, the floating prison boats moored at Williamstown.

In the period 1857-64 the stockade was transformed into a typical Pentonville-type prison. Single cells replaced the dormitory accommodation of the earlier stockade, and high external bluestone walls with towers for sentries were built providing a much higher level of security. Prisoners worked in various industries such as the woollen mill, bakery, printery, tailor’s shop, garden, library or in the labour yard rock-breaking. A car number-plate manufactory was established in 1962. By 1945, prisoners were allowed one visit per month and to receive and send one letter a fortnight. In the 1950s and 1960s the prison became a bit more humane. Prisoners could study, join a debating team and some acted and put on plays. By 1970 there were over 1000 prisoners.

With the closure of the Melbourne Gaol in 1926 all executions in Victoria had been carried out in Pentridge. The last man hanged there was Ronald Ryan in 1967. He had been found guilty of killing a prison officer, George Hodson, during a prison escape attempt. Coburg Council tried fro a long time to have the prison moved or closed. From 1984, drugs and general unrest in the prisons gave rise to rioting and strikes. In 1994, the State Government announced its program to privatise prisons. In May 1997 the northern half of the prison was officially closed and the prisoners sent elsewhere. June 1997 saw the beginning of public tours of the prison. The southern part of the prison closed on 28 November that year and in 1999 the site was sold. It has since been developed as housing estates, parklands and a business precinct.

The afternoon walk along the creek and the lake was a very idyllic one and everywhere there people doing the same, or having barbeques along the shores of the lake. Children played in the playground, families fed the ducks, young lovers canoodled and everyone was enjoying the sunshine, while just a few tens of metres away the old prison walls were a stern memorial to old, sadder times – a souvenir unheeded by the majority of people having weekend fun along the shore of the Lake.

A piece of music came into my head while we were there, and it seemed to summarise the history of the place well… It is the second movement of Beethoven’s seventh symphony. Ludwig van Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7 in A major, Op. 92, was begun in 1811. He worked on it while staying in the Bohemian spa town of Teplice in the hope of improving his health. It was completed in 1812, and was dedicated to Count Moritz von Fries. At its debut, Beethoven was noted as remarking that it was one of his finest works. The second movement Allegretto was the most popular movement and had to be encored immediately it was finished a the first performance. The instant popularity of the Allegretto resulted in its frequent performance separate from the complete symphony.

Friday, 15 July 2011


“The doctor of the future will no longer treat the human frame with drugs, but rather will cure and prevent disease with nutrition.” - Thomas Edison

Now that winter is upon us, people are coming down with all sorts of colds, viral infections and nasty little bugs that make the cold weather that extra little bit more miserable. While taking good care of our hygiene, ensuring that we do not come into contact with infectious people, dressing well and getting vaccinated, it is essential to also take care of our diet, as what we eat can protect us from infections by boosting our immune system and building up our body’s defences.

Oats and barley are two grains rich in beta-glucan, a type of fibre with antimicrobial and antioxidant capabilities more potent than echinacea, as reported by a Norwegian study. When animals were fed beta glucan, they were less likely to contract influenza, herpes, even anthrax; in humans, it boosts immunity, speeds wound healing, and may help antibiotics work better. At least one in your three daily servings of whole grains should be of barley or oats. Excellent in soups, in cereals and in bread made from their flour.

We all know of the health benefits of garlic, especially as they relate to helping lower blood pressure and promoting cardiovascular health. However, this potent relative of the onion contains the active ingredient allicin, which fights infection and microbial growth. British researchers gave 146 people either a placebo or a garlic extract for 12 weeks; the garlic takers were two-thirds less likely to catch a cold. Other studies suggest that garlic-lovers who eat more than six cloves a week have a 30% lower rate of colorectal cancer and a 50% lower rate of stomach cancer. The optimal dose for these health effects is two raw cloves a day and add crushed garlic to your cooking several times a week.

Fish and shellfish
have been staples of human diet for millennia and with good reason. Selenium, plentiful in shellfish such as oysters, lobsters, crabs, and clams, helps white blood cells produce cytokines, which are proteins that help the immune response and which clear viruses out of the body. Salmon, mackerel, and herring are rich in omega-3 fats, which reduce inflammation, increasing airflow and protecting lungs from colds and respiratory infections. Two servings a week are optimal, except if you are pregnant or planning to be. In the latter case, consult your doctor.

Tea drinking in China and Japan has a long and venerable history. People who drank 5 cups a day of black tea for at least two weeks had 10 times more virus-fighting interferon in their blood than others who drank a placebo hot drink, as published in a Harvard study. The amino acid responsible for this immune boost, L-theanine, is abundant in both black and green tea (decaf versions have it, too). Try to drink several cups of tea daily. To get up to five times more antioxidants from your tea bags, dunk them up and down while you brew.

The benefits of lean meat for omnivores like humans cannot be underestimated. One of the commonest dietary deficiencies in developed countries is zinc deficiency, especially for vegetarians and those who have cut back on beef, a prime source of this immunity-bolstering mineral. This is unfortunate as even a mild zinc deficiency can increase risk of infection. Zinc in your diet is very important for the development of white blood cells, those immune system cells that recognise and destroy invading bacteria, viruses, and assorted other microbes, says William Boisvert, PhD, an expert in nutrition and immunity at The Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla, CA. a 100 gram serving of lean beef provides about 33% of the daily dietary requirement for zinc. That is enough to make the difference between deficient and sufficient. If you are not a beef eater, try zinc-rich oysters, fortified cereals, pork, poultry, yogurt, or milk.

Sweet potatoes, carrots, squash, pumpkin, honeydew melons and other bright orange foods are rich in vitamin A, as beta carotene. “Vitamin A plays a major role in the production of connective tissue, a key component of skin.” Says David Katz, MD, prevention advisor and director of the Yale-Griffin Prevention Research Center in Derby, CT.  You may not think of skin as part of your immune system, however, this crucial organ, covering an impressive 1.5 square metres, serves as a first-line defence against the entry of bacteria, viruses, and other microbes. To stay strong and healthy, your skin needs vitamin A. One of the best ways to get vitamin A into your diet is from foods containing beta-carotene (like sweet potatoes, carrots and pumpkin), which your body turns into vitamin A. The optimal dose is a half-cup serving, delivering only 750 Joules, but 40% of the daily dietary requirement of vitamin A as beta-carotene.

For centuries, people around the world have consumed mushrooms because of the delicious taste and multiple culinary uses. My grandfather always used to call the wild mushrooms that he used to gather “…the poor man’s meat”. Mushrooms are excellent for promoting a healthy immune response. Contemporary research explains the reason: “Studies show that mushrooms increase the production and activity of white blood cells, making them more aggressive. This is a good thing when you have an infection.” Says Douglas Schar, DipPhyt, MCPP, MNIMH, director of the Institute of Herbal Medicine in Washington, DC. Shiitake, maitake, and reishi mushrooms appear to pack the biggest immunity punch; experts recommend at least 10 to 30 grams a few times a day for maximum immune benefits. They can be added to pasta, in omelettes, salads, soups and sauces.

Thursday, 14 July 2011


“This is perhaps the most beautiful time in human history; it is really pregnant with all kinds of creative possibilities made possible by science and technology which now constitute the slave of man - if man is not enslaved by it.” - Jonas Salk

The day today was very busy, as often happens after travel. There are always a great number of things to catch up on, people to see, correspondence to reply to and of course emails to read and answer. It was also a day we had to cope with some computer and IT issues, which once again drove home the point how reliant we have become on the omnipresent technology to carry out even the simplest of tasks.

I remember reading a science fiction story many years ago, which had as its basic premise the sudden and complete destruction of everything made of paper. The story explored the unimaginably wide extent of consequences and the near collapse of civilisation that eventuated from this. I guess we would see a similar situation nowadays if the silicon chips inside our smart phones, tablets, computers, cars, electronic devices of all sorts, became irreversibly and completely corrupted, disabling irrevocably our technologically advanced gadgets. It would really create havoc and strike at the very core of our society’s foundations.

Reflecting upon this, one becomes aware of precious little around workplace, home, leisure, business, public service, government that does not rely on technological wizardry. Perhaps we should all devote a couple of weeks every year to some time away from our thoroughly modern lives and go to some remote place, out of reach of technology. Without a mobile phone, no land-line phones, no computers, no clocks, no electronic diaries, no television, no radio, no gadgetry, maybe even no electricity… Does such a place still exist, I wonder? A step backwards in time, where one can indulge in utter relaxation and a detoxification from the “hazards” of modern technology.

However, I am sure that many of us would have severe withdrawal symptoms! Speaking personally, after a couple of days I would be over it all and would begin having a wonderful time! Reading, drawing, painting, playing or composing music, writing (with my fountain pen on handmade paper!), walking! What an opportunity for many of us to rediscover the lost art of looking inward and reflecting, being influenced by our surroundings such that we are moved to create. Such an environment would have us connecting more actively with our companions, enjoying simple pleasures: Nature, companionship, food, wine, real music, conversation, thinking!

It all sounds very idyllic and wonderful and I am sure that I would really enjoy it. However, did you notice I specified that this flight from technology was to be only for a “couple of weeks a year”? I am too much of a creature of comfort and too much of a technophile to be able to wean myself permanently off my high tech “toys”. And just as well that I don’t have to! The microchip eating bug still hasn’t appeared, thankfully!

microchip |ˈmīkrōˌ ch ip| noun
A tiny wafer of semiconducting material (like silicon) used to make an integrated circuit.
verb ( -chipped, -chipping) [ trans. ]
Implant a microchip under the skin of (a domestic animal) as a means of identification.
ORIGIN from Greek mikros ‘small’ + Middle English: related to Old English forcippian [cut off.]

Wednesday, 13 July 2011


“Travel and change of place impart new vigor to the mind.” – Seneca

I was in Brisbane for work today and it made for a long day considering I was on an early flight going there and a late flight coming back. Commuting about 1500 km a day can be rather tiring, but more than anything it is getting to and from the airport and on/off the plane that really piles on the hours. The actual flight time is the least time-consuming… Nevertheless, I got much done and the main purpose of the visit which was regulatory was successful.

The weather in Brisbane was gorgeous after a cold morning. Sunny, clear blue skies and a temperature in the low 20s. Back in Melbourne it was a gray, cold winter’s day with a top of 13˚C. I can certainly see why many elderly people choose to retire to Queensland. Mild winters and lots of sunshine! I even had the opportunity to enjoy some of the sunshine as a couple of the meetings I had were at an external venue.

For Poetry Wednesday today, a “travel” poem by Hilaire Belloc. The rhythm of this poem is wonderful and the descriptive title says it all. Despite the jocular beginning and the driving rhythm, the poem towards the end pauses and descends into introspective and nostalgic resignation with the doom-laden words: “Never more”…


Do you remember an Inn,
Do you remember an Inn?
And the tedding and the spreading
Of the straw for a bedding,
And the fleas that tease in the High Pyrenees,
And the wine that tasted of tar?
And the cheers and the jeers of the young muleteers
(Under the vine of the dark verandah)?
Do you remember an Inn, Miranda,
Do you remember an Inn?
And the cheers and the jeers of the young muleteeers
Who hadn’t got a penny,
And who weren’t paying any,
And the hammer at the doors and the Din?
And the Hip! Hop! Hap!
Of the clap
Of the hands to the twirl and the swirl
Of the girl gone chancing,
Backing and advancing,
Snapping of a clapper to the spin
Out and in –
And the Ting, Tong, Tang, of the Guitar.
Do you remember an Inn,
Do you remember an Inn?
Never more;
Never more.
Only the high peaks hoar:
And Aragon a torrent at the door.
No sound
In the walls of the Halls where falls
The tread
Of the feet of the dead to the ground
No sound:
But the boom
Of the far Waterfall like Doom.

Hilaire Belloc 1870-1953

Monday, 11 July 2011


“A man’s interest in a single bluebird is worth more than a complete but dry list of the fauna and flora of a town.” - Henry David Thoreau

This day’s birthday flower is sweet basil, Ocimum basilicum. It signifies hatred for the other sex (misogyny if you are male and misandry if you are female!), and also poverty. Basil is from the Greek basilikos, meaning “kingly” or “regal”. Astrologers classify it under the sign of Scorpio and basil is ruled by Mars. It used to be said that if a woman was given a sprig of basil and the herb died quickly as she held it, she was “light of love” and of questionable morals.

Legend tells that this day was declared by the archangel Gabriel as the luckiest of the year. Healing, planting, building houses, beginning travels or even declaring wars were all thought to be crowned with success if they were begun on this day.  Children born on this day were supposed to be clever, able scholars and enjoy great wealth.

Today is the birthday (amongst others) of:
Julius Caesar, Roman politician (100 BC);
Clement X (Emilio Altieri), Pope of Rome (1590);
Josiah Wedgwood, potter (1730);
Henry David Thoreau, naturalist/author (1817);
William Osler, physician/author (1849);
George Eastman, inventor of Kodak camera (1854);
Anton Stepanovich Arensky, Russian composer (1861);
Stefan George, German poet (1868);
George Butterworth, composer (1885);
Oscar Hammerstein II, lyricist of Rodgers fame (1895);
Pablo Neruda (Neftalí Ricardo Reyes Basualto), Chilean Nobel prize winning (1971) poet (1904);
Edward “Weary” Dunlop, Australian POW doctor (1907);
Milton Berle, actor (1908);
Andrew Wyeth, artist (1917);
Van Cliburn, pianist (1934);
William Cosby, actor (1937);

Today is also St Veronica’s feast day. She was a pious matron of Jerusalem who, during the Passion of Christ, as one of the holy women who accompanied Him to Calvary, offered Him a towel on which he left the imprint of His face. She went to Rome, bringing with her this image of Christ, which was long exposed to public veneration. To her likewise are traced other relics of the Blessed Virgin venerated in several churches of the West. The belief in the existence of authentic images of Christ is connected with the old legend of Abgar of Edessa and the apocryphal writing known as the "Mors Pilati". To distinguish at Rome the oldest and best known of these images it was called vera icon (true image), which ordinary language soon made veronica. By degrees, popular imagination mistook this word for the name of a person and attached thereto several legends which vary according to the country.

In Italy tradition has Veronica coming to Rome at the summons of the Emperor Tiberius, whom she cured by making him touch the sacred image. She thenceforth remained in the capital of the empire, living there at the same time as Sts Peter and Paul, and at her death bequeathed the precious image to Pope Clement and his successors.

In France she was said to be given in marriage to Zacchaeus, the convert of the Gospel, whom she then accompanied to Rome, and then to Quiercy, where her husband becomes a hermit, under the name of Amadour, in the region now called Rocamadour. Meanwhile Veronica joined Martial, whom she assisted in his apostolic preaching.

In the region of Bordeaux Veronica, shortly after the Ascension of Christ, is said to have landed at Soulac at the mouth of the Gironde, bringing relics of the Blessed Virgin; there she preached, died, and was buried in the tomb which was long venerated either at Soulac or in the Church of St. Seurin at Bordeaux. Sometimes St Veronica has even been confounded with a pious woman who, according to Gregory of Tours, brought to the neighboring town of Bazas some drops of the blood of John the Baptist, at whose beheading she was present.

Speedwell, Veronica chamaedrys, is the flower dedicated to St Veronica. Speedwell, is a roadside plant with masses of pretty blue flowers that “speed you well”. In Ireland, a bit of the plant was pinned onto clothes to keep travellers from accidents.


“Only after disaster can we be resurrected.” - Chuck Palahniuk

Yesterday we watched John Hillcoat’s 2009 movie of the Pulitzer Prize-winning Cormac McCarthy novel “The Road”. This is a challenging film and it is not easy to sit and watch it as it confronts us with ideas that we may have thought about, but quickly banished from our mind as they are too horrible to entertain.

The plot revolves around a Father and his Son who walk through a devastated USA. This is a grim tale set in a post-apocalyptic world where destruction has been wrought on an unimaginably huge scale. We are never made aware of what the destruction is due to, nor is it important to the plot. No living thing moves in the despoiled landscape and all that is left is ruined cities, burnt trees, ash drifting in the wind, gray skies, dirty snow, and gashed earth. Other survivors roam the ravaged land in lawless cannibalistic bands that will hunt other weaker humans as prey. The Father and Son are the “good guys” and they retain enough of their humanity to starve slowly rather than be reduced to the same barbaric state as the cannibals. The duo walk towards the warmer south, although there is no guarantee that anything better awaits them there. They have nothing except a pistol with two bullets to defend themselves, the ragged, dirty clothes they are wearing, a dilapidated shopping cart of scavenged food, and each other.

A quote from the book: “The clocks stopped at one seventeen. There was a long shear of bright light, then a series of low concussions. I think it’s October but I can’t be sure. I haven’t kept a calendar for years. Each day is more gray than the one before. It is cold and growing colder as the world slowly dies. No animals have survived, and all the crops are long gone. Someday all the trees in the world will fall. The roads are peopled by refugees towing carts, and gangs carrying weapons, looking for fuel and food… 

Within a year there were fires on the ridges and deranged chanting. There has been cannibalism. Cannibalism is the great fear. Mostly I worry about food, always food. Food and the cold and our shoes. Sometimes I tell the boy old stories of courage and justice, difficult as they are to remember. All I know is the child is my warrant, and if he is not the word of God, then God never spoke.”

The film is amplified by some flashback scenes of a pre-apocalyptic paradise when the Boy’s Mother was alive and life was good and full of sunshine and nature verdant. But overall, this is a bleak and distressing film that paints a disturbing picture of a future that may well eventuate before not too long: Whether it is destruction by a massive, accelerated climate change, a nuclear winter, an asteroid impact, world-wide warfare or a shift in the earth’s orbit, the dire fate that may await mankind is an appalling scenario that we should be aware of. The psychological state of the survivors is the focus of the film. All of the spectrum of responses to a mind-destroying apocalyptic end of the world are explored: Suicide, cannibalism, scavenging, madness, the self-preservation instinct. More than all of these the film is a paean to the bond between father and son and the love a father has for his child.

Viggo Mortensen and Kodi Smit-McPhee play the main roles and overall, their acting is very good, with the chemistry between them just right. Charlize Theron as the Mother puts in a  cameo role as a woman cracking under the strain of the world collapsing around her and her last poignant scene is a haunting one. Robert Duvall playing an elderly wanderer does much with his short scene and his world weary survivor’s senility is a good foil for the innocence of the young boy who pities him.

The film forces us to examine our lives and question ourselves as to what is really important to us. What could we lose and still manage to survive, what do we need to have left to go on fighting? What more would we need to lose in order to finally give up and let ourselves go? Different characters in the film have answered these questions differently and we see the contrast between the weak and the strong, the “good guys” and the “bad guys”. We ask ourselves to what extent we would go in order to preserve our lives, but perhaps more importantly the lives of those we love. At what point does our instinct of self-preservation overcome our humanity? When does selfishness overcome altruism? What need happen in order for us to revert to our ancestral animal instincts and the barbarism of the uncivilised beast?

One of the brightest and most hopeful of scenes in the movie was towards the end when the man and the boy find a beetle in a thrown away can. Their astonishment and delight as the beetle flies away is a ray of sunshine in their otherwise gray world. The shimmering of the wings of the beetle as it flies is the only sign of life and a promise of a future recovery.

The film is worth seeing, but it does take some work to be actively engaged by it. There was some poignancy in the film, but strangely enough I did not get drawn emotionally into it. I watched as a detached observer might do, but it was hard to be really moved by it. The situations were perhaps rather contrived, the development too slow, the plot too predictable, the action too laboured. A friend of ours has read the novel and has the highest regard for it, but refuses to see the movie. An acquaintance has read the novel and has seen the movie and liked the movie better. Perhaps I should read the novel myself and make up my own mind…

Sunday, 10 July 2011


“A museum has to renew its collection to be alive, but that does not mean we give up important old works.” - David Rockefeller

We are currently being regaled with a special exhibition at the National Gallery of Victoria in Melbourne. We are very proud of our gallery, easily the best in Australasia, and I would even be presumptuous enough to say the best in the Southern Hemisphere, in terms of its breadth of coverage, richness of the collection and the significance of its art pieces. Not to mention its excellent curatorship, its constantly expanding collection and the extremely good conservation work that is always being done. Add to that regular special exhibitions from all over the world and you have a world-class gallery!

The current special exhibition of note is the “Vienna: Art & Design” exposition. It looks at the period of about 100 years ago, when a group of radical young artists and thinkers in Vienna, Austria, broke all the rules and created a new wave of creativity. The exhibition at the NGV explores this amazing period, bringing together some 300 works by the greatest Viennese artists of the early twentieth century. Four of them are especially well-represented: Artists Gustav Klimt and Egon Schiele, and architects Josef Hoffmann and Adolf Loos who were central to this artistic revolution, known as the Vienna Secession. Their work transformed Vienna into a modern and forward-looking metropolis at the forefront of new and often shocking ideas that created controversy and revitalised art.

Gustav Klimt is the most well-known and approachable of the group as his paintings are colourful, rich in pattern, pleasing to the eye, yet still startle with their originality and their grandiose scale in terms of subject matter and breadth of concept. Gustav Klimt was born on July 14, 1862, in Baumgarten, Austria, the second seven children, the son of a poor jewellery engraver. At the age of fourteen he entered the University of Plastic Arts in Vienna and it was there that he discovered and began to develop his talent as an artist. He graduated from this the University at the age of twenty, at which time he had been commissioned to create several decorative works, making use of his training in modernist craftsmanship.

At that time he founded the Künstlercompanie (Company of Artists) studio with his brother Ernst, and Franz Matsch, a fellow student. The three found much success as mural painters, obtaining contracts from museums, theatres, and contracting other decorative artwork from wealthy patrons.  The company eventually ceased to exist, following the death of Ernst, and a falling out with Franz Matsch. During his years as a decorator, Klimt finely honed his personal style, which was a product of his artistic training, and the engraving skills his father had taught him. Klimt’s paintings often included gold and silver paint, metal, and ceramics, and as much attention was given to ornamental details as to their subjects. Very few of Klimt’s paintings were done on canvases, as he preferred to paint murals.  Klimt also found inspiration in Byzantine mosaics, which he discovered while exploring Vienna.

In 1897, Gustav Klimt took an interest in politics and rallied other artists to found the Vienna Sezession (Secession), an Art Nouveau movement whose goal was to give young, innovative artists a chance to get exposure, and to revolt against the conservative attitudes of the academic art world. He organised several exhibits, attracting thousands from around the world to view their revolutionary art, and even published “Ver Sacrum”, a monthly magazine about the movement and its artists.  His own personal style came to represent the movement's aesthetics, and in 1902, he painted the “Beethoven Frieze”, a mural for the Sezession building.

In 1905, following a series of disagreements with other members of the Sezession several others left the group, and formed a new association called the Kunstschau (Art Show). Klimt’s most famous painting, “The Kiss”, was created between 1907 and 1908, but it is still associated with the Sezession.  Klimt was a very popular artist, but he was also quite controversial.  He was renowned for his womanising, and often used prostitutes as models.  Many of his works were considered too sensual for the mores of early 20th Century Vienna, and even his more historical, or mythical works featuring nudes were often criticised for being too erotic.   Fortunately, the scandals only served to heighten Klimt’s international recognition, if not his notoriety.

Klimt often travelled to the outskirts of Vienna, and to Italy where the countryside inspired him, particularly autumnal landscapes, which showed the rich golden hues of his own decorative designs.  From the opulence of the Viennese Bourgeoisie to the mythological, from eroticism to the simple beauty of nature, Klimt’s artwork always maintained its highly stylised feel, but what remains one of its most fascinating traits is that while concentrating on the superficial, its depth cannot be ignored.

In 1917, he was made an honorary member the Viennese Academy of Fine Arts. On January 11th of the following year, at the age of 55, Gustav Klimt suffered a stroke while working in his apartment.  Weakened from the stroke, and suffering from pneumonia, he died less than a month later, on February 6th, 1918.

The painting above is “Death and Life”, which in 1911 received first prize in the world exhibition in Rome. It typifies in many ways Klimt’s work in that it juxtaposes colourful, flat decorative elements reminiscent of enamelwork, Byzantine mosaics and art nouveau tilework, with rounded lush forms of human figures and voluptuous females. The canvas is divided into two uneven areas by a green expanse, which could just as easily be a tree trunk as it could be a field or a grave, covered with grass. The larger part of the canvas is devoted to life with women of all ages occupying pride of place, the muscular male and the baby boy almost tokenistic afterthoughts. The women exemplify Klimt’s fascination with the female body and his fixation with sex and pleasure. The smaller part of the canvas on the left depicts death as a skeletal figure lying in wait ready to strike, seemingly at any one of the figures on the right. Death wears the garb of religion, the numerous crosses on the patterned cloth disguising his bones with priestly vestments. The message is clear, life is a bacchanalian orgy, where the “old” religions of the sensualist polytheism hold sway, while death is associated with the Christian religion, laden with sin, guilt and divine wrath.