A Modern Language of Nerves
Klimt’s portraits society women presented them as insubstantial, distracted, tense, refined, cultured, sexualised.
The figures were rigid, placed alone on the canvas. Their hands were flexed in uncomfortable manners which made them look ugly. Some women were portrayed wearing chokers, which makes them look so tense they could hardly breathe. Such portraits illustrate Vienna’s intense obsession with Neurasthenia and various other ‘nervous illnesses’ around 1900; intense in a sense that it was perceived fashionable to be nervous, tense, having trouble sleeping or giving up smoking, and having a constant need to be reading, writing or talking.