Why this Lost Klimt Painting Was One Of His Best

A compelling artwork destroyed by the Nazis

Christopher P Jones
6 min readNov 24, 2023

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Die Freundinnen or ‘The Friends’ (1916–17) by Gustav Klimt. Oil on canvas. Destroyed. Image source WikiArt

When Gustav Klimt completed this compelling double portrait in 1917, the Viennese painter had reached the height of his artistic development. His painting style had become looser, more direct, marked by densely applied, almost buttery textures. Gone was his use of shimmering gold and silver leaf; in their place a rich palette of coral red, lilac blues, salmon and yellow.

What I especially like about this work, The Friends, is the way in which both women engage with the viewer so congenially. Between them — one with her head tilted, with the appearance to my eyes of someone drying their hair, the other upright, her neck lengthened, her lips a little pursed — there is a kind of dual reception, a unison of looking and greeting.

Detail of ‘Die Freundinnen’ or ‘The Friends’ (1916–17) by Gustav Klimt. Oil on canvas. Destroyed. Image source WikiArt

Die Freundinnen or The Friends was one of the last great paintings Klimt made. He died a year after its completion, following a stroke that left him vulnerable to the effects of the 1918 flu pandemic.

Likewise, the original painting no longer exists after it was destroyed during the Second World War.

Nonetheless, as we look closer at the work you might come to the same opinion as I have, that this was one of Klimt’s very best paintings.

Two Friends

Die Freundinnen or ‘The Friends’ (1916–17) by Gustav Klimt. Oil on canvas. Destroyed. Image source WikiArt

Two women stand before us, one clothed and the other mostly naked, in a stylised depiction.

At first the presence of nudity may suggest an element of eroticism, but looking at the women more closely their sympathetic glances seem to quickly dispel any overtones of lasciviousness.

What we see instead are two women whose personalities are irrefutably before us. Who they are exactly is unknown, but there can be no doubt that they know each other. They are comfortable together, relaxed as close companions can be. As such, they seem to appear before us as a…

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