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Johanna Staude

The incomplete artwork titled “Portrait of Johanna Staude” (1917–1918) was crafted by the renowned artist Gustav Klimt. The painting captures the likeness of Johanna Staude (formerly Widlicka; February 16, 1883 – July 2, 1967), an Austrian woman who had gone through a divorce and had also served as a model for Egon Schiele, another prominent artist. Staude initially identified herself as a language teacher and later as a painter, although no extant pieces of her own artwork are recognized.

According to the assessment of The Financial Times, Klimt’s painting stands as the pinnacle of his evolution as a portraitist. The artwork portrays Johanna Staude as a novel representation of a post-war woman—confident, intellectually astute, contemporary—gazing boldly outward. She adorns a fashionable cropped hairstyle and a stylish black feather boa. The painting of Staude found its permanent home at the Österreichische Galerie Belvedere in 1963.

Johanna Staude






Gustav Klimt


50 cm × 70 cm (20 in × 28 in)

Österreichische Galerie Belvedere


In 1917, Gustav Klimt received a commission to create a portrait of Johanna Staude. The portrait prominently showcases a blouse crafted from the “Blätter” (Leaves) fabric, a design by textile artist Martha Alber associated with the Wiener Werkstätte movement. Unlike Klimt’s previous portraits, this piece portrays Staude distinct from the background, imparting a sense of independence. Many observers have interpreted this separation as a representation of a confident “modern woman” who exudes audacity in her attire.

The striking contrast between the turquoise fabric pattern and the mandarin orange background evokes both the influences of French Fauvism and German Expressionism.

Amidst the bold patterns adorning her clothing, Klimt directs attention to Staude’s facial expression by framing it with a black feather collar. Author Nathaniel Harris points out that, in contrast to the majority of women in Klimt’s later works, Staude appears solemn, perhaps even melancholic. Notably, John Collins highlights the uncertainty in her grey-green eyes, the slight tilt of her head, and her slightly parted lips, all of which convey a sense of sadness, possibly hinting at resignation toward the challenging circumstances of wartime Vienna. In a more critical interpretation by curator Kirk Varnedoe in 1986, Johanna Staude is characterized as having an “uncharacteristically disheveled” appearance, radiating a palpable sense of distress.

Personal Life

Born in Vienna during 1883, Johanna Widlicka hailed from a family with artistic inclinations; her siblings included Leopold and Anton Widlicka, both academic painters, and Richard Widlicka, a noted opera singer. In 1914, she entered into matrimony with Franz Staude, a union that dissolved in 1918 through divorce.

Throughout her life, Staude identified herself as a language teacher and a painter. She also held the role of a housekeeper for Austrian poet Peter Altenberg (1859–1919). It’s plausible that Klimt introduced her to Altenberg, given his close affiliation with Klimt’s circle of friends and admirers. Following Klimt’s demise in February 1918, Altenberg composed a tribute on a drawing Klimt had created of Staude, subsequently describing her as a “modern saint” due to her caretaking during his final year.

In the early 1960s, Staude mentioned in an interview that she had posed as a model for both Klimt and Egon Schiele. Nonetheless, the specific paintings she posed for, aside from her portrait, remain unrecorded. Staude is frequently likened to the unidentified subject in Klimt’s “Lady with a Fan” (Dame mit Fächer). It’s also suggested that she might have posed in the nude for a study related to “The Girlfriends.” Some time after 1963, Staude was admitted to a Viennese hospital, where she later passed away.

According to Klimt biographer Christian M. Nebehay, Erich Lederer recounted an anecdote in which Staude inquired why Klimt hadn’t completed her portrait, specifically focusing on the mouth. Klimt’s response was candid: “Because then you will never come to the studio again.”

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