Klimt's idyllic studio is saved for posterity in €2m restoration deal

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The Independent Online

The garden was full of songbirds and blossoming fruit trees in summer, while inside the cottage in Vienna's suburbs, models who posed for Gustav Klimt would wander around in the nude.

After the death of the Austrian painter in 1918, the house that Klimt had used as a studio for the last six years of his life was forcibly sold by the Nazis and then used as a school. Until recently it faced the threat of demolition by Russian property developers.

But later this month, Klimt's last studio will be saved for posterity and restored to its original condition under an agreement between the Austrian government and Vienna's Belvedere Museum, which houses the largest collection of the artist's works.

The project follows years of campaigning by Klimt devotees and a court ruling in a restitution case last year in which the Belvedere was ordered to hand over five important Klimt works to the descendants of Adele Bloch-Bauer, the subject of one of the artist's best-known portraits. The case stirred great controversy in Austria, and is thought to have persuaded the museum to act quickly to secure the remainder of Klimt's legacy.

Klimt moved to the studio at 11 Feldmühlgasse in the then rural suburb of Heitzing in 1912 to escape the glare of publicity. He was in the spotlight because of his status as Austria's most important painter, and his disagreements with the authorities over artistic freedom.

Moving to the calm of the countryside from his mother's apartment in Vienna's city centre allowed Klimt to develop his Bohemian lifestyle. The artist already enjoyed a reputation as a notorious womaniser and he is rumoured to have fathered up to 16 children.

The models who posed for the series of portraits that Klimt painted at Feldmühlgasse were reputed to wander around the studio naked. "Several were at his beck and call every day," recalled Carl Moll, a friend of Klimt's who is also an artist.

Photographs of Klimt at the time show that the heavily bearded artist, usually dressed in a monk-like smock that reached to the floor, also loved spending time in the studio's huge, rambling garden. One visitor said: "There were hundreds of fruit trees in full bloom surrounded by countless bumblebees. It was all brought to life by the chirping of songbirds of different kinds."

The garden still contains two of Klimt's original rosebushes, which were immortalised in his 1912 landscape Orchard with Roses.

After Klimt's death, his friend and fellow artist Egon Schiele wrote about the studio: "Nothing should be removed, because everything connected with Klimt's house is part of a total work of art which must not be destroyed ... The studio should be opened as a Klimt museum."

Under the €2m (£1.4m) restoration plan, the post-1918 buildings, which account for 90 per cent of the property on the site, will be demolished. The original four-room cottage will be restored and there are plans for a study centre and an archive.