The Lineage of Fish Blood: Allegories and Implications of Gustav Klimt’s Underwater Women



This paper identifies a lineage of works through which Gustav Klimt developed his portrayal of the allegorical female nude, beginning with the 1898 drawing Fish Blood. This drawing set a precedent for the modernizing geometric stylization advocated by Klimt and his organization, the Vienna Secession, and was printed specifically for their mouthpiece, the Ver Sacrum magazineIts lineage, both thematic and aesthetic, continued through his paintings Bewegtes Wasser (1898), Water Serpents I (1904), and Water Serpents II (1907). The social context of Vienna 1900, the stylization of the Secession’s modernist work, and Klimt’s abstruse attitudes towards the portrayal of women, are all identified as being fueled by contradictory impulses which informed the formation of this series. By examining Fish Blood and its descendants, which portray their figures in ambiguous, underwater environments, the author also identifies nationalistic, mythological, and psychosexual dimensions to Klimt’s independent allegorical works. Exploration of these dimensions in relation to the social context in which the works were formed allows the author to examine Klimt’s approach to the portrayal of women in his independent artwork – an approach that at at once allegorizes and sexualizes its figures, revolving around their alternating threat and appeal to the male viewer.

Lexi Horvath

Lexis Horvath is a graduating senior with a major in art history and a minor in art. She is from Hillsdale, NJ, and transferred to Rutgers after receiving an Associate’s Degree at Bergen Community College. She is the outgoing President of Rutgers’ Art History Student Association, and has been employed as a gallery attendant at Rutgers’ Zimmerli Art Museum since 2017. Lexi spent the 2018-19 school year as a Resident Assistant, and even had the pleasure to spend a month studying art history in Rome last summer. She looks forward to applying to graduate school after gaining more internship and work experience. She would like to thank her parents for their unwavering support in her education, and her friends on the RAHSA executive board for their heartening company. She would also like to thank Professor Yanni for her help and encouragement this past Fall, and her advisors Brittney Bailey and Professor Sidlauskas for their invaluable guidance throughout this project.

10 Replies to “The Lineage of Fish Blood: Allegories and Implications of Gustav Klimt’s Underwater Women”

  1. Really tight argument and a really amazing set of images. Your reading of “Albrechtsbrunnen” and the work as a personification of the city of Vienna convinced me. Great job, Lexi!

  2. Great insight and you make a compelling argument for the role of feminine power and its many implications. I really enjoyed that you focused on an relatively unstudied work and placed in in context of the art world and the evolution of societal norms many of which remain relevant to today. Congratulations on an excellent presentation. Best of luck as you continue your career.

  3. Having the opportunity to see your final product after all your months of hard work has been such a treat. I’ve enjoyed all the wisdom you’ve imparted on me about our mutual favorite artist since meeting and befriending you! This study of one of Klimt’s lesser considered works is such a great contribution to our field. I am honored to call you both a peer and a friend, and I know you will continue to make strides with your research in the future. So proud of you, Lexi!

  4. Excellent work, Lexi! This is such a strong paper with logical organization and a powerful, well-supported argument. Looking forward to reading more of your writing.

  5. What an interesting contribution to the study of art and gender! You should also take a look at how the field of environmental studies approaches the topic of women and water. It will provide you another lens through which to view this very curious body of work.

  6. This is a fascinating paper. Your tenacity in research really shows, as does your ability to present a compelling argument. Congratulations, Lexi!

  7. Great job, Lexi! It is so exciting to see how your line of thinking from way-back-when in Curatorial training has grown into this project. Your argument is strong from beginning to end. I am so interested in the connection of women and water – there are so many great lines of questioning to bridge off that, as well. Congrats!

  8. Tightly argued presentation, and nice contextual examples in the paintings and water fountain to connect the portrayal of women (or sirens) across media. The connection with the Danube wasn’t something that immediately came to mind, but your mention of it made me curious about other artistic renderings referencing the river at the time. Kudos, job well done!

  9. Thanks for your close reading of this beguiling drawing which I didn’t know. You offer a compelling Interpretation of its imagery and meanings within the larger body of Klimt’s exploration of the theme of watery women. And thanks, too, for including Rossetti’s amazing drawing of a siren.

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