In this absorbing novel, Elizabeth Hickey explores the complex relationship between artist and muse. THE PAINTED KISS is the story of Emilie Flöge, a successful fashion designer who, as a young girl in late-1800s Vienna, meets the enigmatic artist Gustav Klimt and his brother, Ernst. Hired by her father to provide art lessons for Emilie and her sister, Helene, Gustav embarks on a long-standing, passionate, and difficult relationship with Emilie that spans their entire lives.
THE PAINTED KISS is rooted in historical biography: the artist Klimt did in fact have a lifelong relationship with an Emilie Flöge (her sister, Helene, did marry his brother Ernst), and Flöge was the owner of a successful fashion salon in Vienna --- although it is unclear as to whether their relationship was ever more than platonic. Hickey skillfully gathers the ends of these historical threads and weaves them into an engrossing tapestry revolving around one of Austria's most renowned artists --- indeed, one of the greatest artists of the period and a trailblazer of the art nouveau movement. The story is told in flashbacks as Emilie lives the difficulties of World War II Vienna, remembering her life --- and her love story with Klimt --- as their lives played out in a city of cafes, operas, glittering society, and a growing artistic movement.
But life with Klimt is not all cake and marzipa: Klimt was nothing if not a passionate lover of the female form --- as most of his greatest works, in particular Danae and Water Serpents I and II, can attest. He was intimately involved with many of the society women who modeled for him --- including Adele Bloch-Bauer and Alma Mahler --- and his studio was a virtual revolving door for the lower and working class women who modeled for him (viewed as little more than prostitutes in that era.) The story of Emilie and Gustav is as much about love frustrated and thwarted as it is about the creative fire of artistic passion.
Fans of THE GIRL WITH A PEARL EARRING instantly will be drawn to this novel, as will the many fans of Gustav Klimt's epic paintings Portrait of Emilie Flöge and The Kiss --- whose stories are imagined by Hickey in these pages. Hickey is a gifted storyteller who wrings every nuance out of her elaborate setting to create a lush and engrossing read. Although the mysterious relationship between Gustav Klimt and Emilie Flöge may be no easier to scrutinize after reading Hickey's imagined biography, the passions that fired a creative genius --- as well as the enigmatic ties that bind artist to muse --- continue to fascinate readers and art lovers both, and will continue to do so for years to come.
Reviewed by Lourdes Orive on January 14, 2011
The Painted Kiss