Published in Tango #6: Love and Sex, 2005 and later, in The Best Of Tango, Allen & Unwin, 2009. Drawn 2002.
I’ve long been fascinated by fin-de-siecle Vienna, being a hotbed of artistic invention (that was not taking its lead from Paris), its proto-modernist literature and it was the birthing ground of modernist music (Mahler, Schoenberg, Weber). It was also a festering, multicultural pit of over-heated, pointless politics, ossified Imperial ritual masking a collapsing state, cementing its central role in the military nightmares of the first half of the twentieth century. If that sounds familiar, then be scared; history repeats.
I particularly loved the art of Egon Schiele and Gustav Klimt. To be sure, part of the appeal was their eroticism, which was certainly through the masculine filter of women as objects of lust, limned with the fear of such arousal and the emotions concomitant with it (it was a Catholic city). I don’t mind calling myself a feminist, so I have problems with this view in today’s culture, but it is still interesting to look at art history and its depiction of women as a measure of men’s and therefore culture’s view of women over history. I’ve long thought art was about making things visible, that is, man’s attempt to explain the world and the remarkable fortune of his being alive and aware of it.
So, what does this story say? Well, I’ve always been fascinated by Gustav Klimt’s faculty paintings, of which there were three: allegories for the faculties of medicine, philosophy and law. None of these paintings exist anymore, destroyed by fire at the end of WW2 at the Schloss Immendorf. No one knows if it was deliberate, but it was while the Soviet army occupied it. Anyhow, I loved the allegory of medicine, with its writing column of humanity at all stages of life and health, among them the spectre of death resident with us all. This story was meant to be part of a longer meditation on the same subject, immersed in that period. It was to have the protagonist, as shown here – a milquetoast of a man who had nothing to offer a woman (like I was at the time), look over his life and fantasies inspired by various figures in the work, such as happens here. It was meant to go on, perhaps with as many stories as there were figures in the work, but there was no driving character arc to hang it all together, so I dropped the big idea and did this little one. I did have fun reproducing the painting on the first page, which is a fairly faithful copy from one of two remaining photographs of it, one of them a detail of Hygeia (at the bottom centre) in colour.