This is the only picture I could find of the Schloss Immendorf which was destroyed by fire in 1945 on May 7. German SS soldiers, who set the fires, knowing that the castle held works by various artists including a large selection of Gustav Klimt's work, among them Hygeia, perhaps did so without orders.
The daughter of the god of medicine, Hygeia, painted by Gustav Klimt was part of a larger work from 1901 called Medicine. This series was for the University of Vienna School of Medicine. This photo was taken before its destruction, sometime before the painting was moved out of Vienna to Immendorf for safe keeping, I suspect.
My Hygeia which I call Hygenia hangs on the wall in my sitting room. This is a work I did in pencil in 1984. I had done some colored pencil pieces of a couple of his works.
Close up of my Hygenia. Here you can see more than just her face. My kids used to love to look at this and find the other faces.
"On May 7 1945, they (an SS unit) arrived at Immendorf Castle in southern Austria. The German soldiers already billeted there were ordered to leave. That morning, German forces in Austria had signed their surrender, to take effect the next day; for these SS men, it was the last night of the war.
Schloss Immendorf was a beautiful setting for their final night of power and freedom. The castle's massive fortifications were softened with sloping tiled roofs, so that it resembled a Loire chateau, set in spacious parkland, with ivy growing up the walls. A curving staircase led to a grand interior full of art treasures, stored here by the Reich to save them from air raids on Vienna.
Among this store were 13 paintings by Gustav Klimt. It seems that these were on view in the castle apartments: the Nazis, the castle's owner later reported, looked at the paintings with appreciation, and one was heard to say that it would be a "sin" for the Russians to get their hands on them. Klimt's sensual art turned out to be a fitting backdrop for the events of that night: according to a 1946 police report, the SS officers "held orgies all night in the castle apartments". Who knows what this means, but it is a strange and macabre image - the SS holding their orgies as Klimt's maenads and muses looked on.
The next day, the SS unit laid explosives in the castle's four towers and walked out. One man went back and lit a fuse, and a tower burst into flames. As the fire spread, explosives in the other towers detonated. Schloss Immendorf burned for days. Nothing survived of its interior, and the gutted shell was later demolished. According to the eyewitness reports that reached Vienna months later, amid the chaos of defeat, not a single work of art survived." by Jonathan Jones, Klimt's Dazzling Demons, The Guardian, May 6, 2008:
HOW HYGENIA CAME TO ME
When the fire burned, I am sure the officers drank at a nearby tavern. They knew that they were doomed and wanted some last act to show their power. There was no other reason to burn the schloss or the paintings shipped there for safety from Vienna.
The owner of the property had been angered, but the paintings would never fall into the hand of the Russians, or so had proclaimed some of the SS. The disgusting destruction of this beautiful collection was not the last of the paintings. Many lived on in photographs taken in black and white and some even in color.
I had visited some of this painting family, all birthed by Klimt, in the Belvedere in Vienna. While at first it seemed insignificant to spend time on a school trip there, it was a place that marked me for the rest of my life. I was haunted by the work of Klimt and in love with his talent and sensuality. He seemed undiscovered by the world I lived in.
Those officers perhaps thought they killed off Klimt through the destruction of his work. They could not have known that books about his work would now exist and those very paintings long gone in the physical sense, lingered in the world through their photographs and descriptions.
Hygenia would not be denied an existence. In a colorless moment in my life, I depicted her, unadorned with her flaming red and gold, but in black and white, what I was seeing the world in back then. She grew in stature when she was framed more than a decade later. Her life was not dull, she was displayed a few times, once where even a stranger insisted she looked like Joan Crawford.
Time passed again and she hangs in an obscure place where I am probably the only one who sees her and acknowledges her . She insisted on being viewed by a much larger audience so she will participate with her consent in this series. Unlike Klimt's version of her, in mine, she looks into your eyes. Be mindful. She searches for those who burned her in the past. I tell her it is pointless, useless, but she reminds me that some works have found their way home and perhaps she has not yet arrived. I tell her she is home, only a copy, my creation after her own first incarnation by Klimt. She disagrees. She tells me I made her see.
For more information on Hygenia, who she belonged to after the University declined the group of paintings as too pornographic; you can read information here:
Copyright 2011 by SheilaTGTG55