A further look at a Modern Couple: Emilie Floge and Gustav Klimt
There is a wonderful exhibition at the Barbican centre: Modern Couples portrays the love stories of the ones who have shaped our current creative scene. From Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera to Georgia O’Keeffe and Alfred Stieglitz to Virginia Woolf and Vita Sackville-West, the show guides through love and break-ups across painting, photography, sculpture and more.
One entire room was however dedicated to the relationship between Austrian couturier Emilie Floge and artist and painter Gustav Klimt. The room shows us the objects, from paintings to dresses, from lamps to notebooks, that the couple created together, interlacing their disciplines into a unique way to look at art for the time then.
A bit of history
Emilie Flöge started her fashion career as a seamstress, and in 1895, she began working at her sister Pauline’s couturier school. After only four years of collaboration, they entered and won a competition to design an exhibition dress. In 1904, joined by their other sister, Helene, the Flöge women opened their own boutique, Schwestern Flöge (which translated to “Flöge Sisters"). The atelier was well known for the making of the rational dress, which free women from the confines of restrictive clothes like corsets, and perhaps from the idea of fashion itself.
Back in 1891, Helene, the older sister of Emilie, had married Ernst Klimt, the brother of Gustav Klimt. When Ernst passed away, Gustav was made Helene’s guardian. At that time Emilie was only eighteen years old and Gustav became quickly welcomed as a frequent guest at the Floge household, spending the summers with the family at Lake Attersee.
Emilie Flöge was a member of the Viennese bohemian and Fin de siècle circles. She was a successful businesswoman; not averse to fashion, but only to the one of the time: her sense of style and design aligned with the one of Art Nouveau, with embroidery and decoration being the central focus of her designs. She often collaborated with Klimt on his paintings or became the subject of them, bringing a distinct look to his work.
Klimt used Emilie as a subject in many of his works. Many art historians even believe that his famous The Kiss (1907–08) shows the artist and Flöge as lovers.
The relationship between Emilie and Gustav might have began as an intimate infatuation but it further developed in a strong friendship, focused on their intellectual and artistic collaboration rather than being a physical one. Nowadays, we still have access to Klimt’s documents to Emilie, in the form of 400 postcards he sent to her during his travelling.
The Floge Sisters atelier had to unfortunately close in 1938, after many of its customers were forced to escape the war.
Emilie’s contribution to art and fashion will never be forgotten: not only as a symbol of female artist, but also as businesswoman, in an era when women’s rights and freedoms were restricted and where she managed to be recognised by an eager audience for ideas that were wholly her own.