Beautiful and stylish, Serena Pulitzer Lederer was a star of turn-of-the-century Viennese society. For this portrait, commissioned by her husband, the industrialist August Lederer, Klimt employed soft, sinuous brushstrokes to present Serena as an apparition in white. "An upright flower, long-stemmed … like a black tulip," enthused one critic when the painting was shown in 1901 at the tenth exhibition of the Vienna Secession—a group founded by Klimt and other artists four years earlier, with the aim of putting the city at the forefront of the international art world. The Lederers subsequently formed the finest collection of Klimt’s work in private hands.
Inscription: Signed (lower right): GVS.TAV / KLIMT·
August and Serena Lederer, Bartensteingasse, Vienna (1899–his d. 1936; commissioned from the artist for 35,000 kronen); Serena Lederer, Vienna (1936–d. 1943); their son, Erich Lederer, Geneva (1943–80; sale, Dorotheum, Vienna, March 18–20, 1948, no. 76, as "Bildnis einer stehenden Dame in weißem Gesellschaftskleid vor hellgrauen Hintergrund," for (Ba) (8000,-) 3000, withdrawn [with no. 75, Klimt's portrait of his sister, Elisabeth (N & D 188)] ; on deposit from 1949–80 in the Öffentliche Kunstsammlung, Kunstmuseum Basel; sold to MMA)
Vienna. Secession. "X. Kunst Ausstellung der Vereinigung Bilden der Künstler Österreichs Secession," March 15–May 12, 1901, no. 66 (as "Bildnis Serena Lederer") [see Nebehay 1969].
Paris. Galeries Nationales du Grand Palais. "Klimt, Schiele, Moser, Kokoschka: Vienne 1900," October 3, 2005–January 23, 2006, unnumbered cat. (p. 231).
Martigny. Fondation Pierre Gianadda. "The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York: Chefs-d'œuvre de la peinture européenne," June 23–November 12, 2006, no. 28.
The Hague. Gemeentemuseum. "Toorop in Wenen: Inspiratie voor Klimt," October 7, 2006–January 7, 2007, no. 50.
New York. Neue Galerie. "Birth of the Modern: Style and Identity in Vienna 1900," February 24–August 8, 2011, no. 47.
Neue Galerie New York. "Gustav Klimt and the Women of Vienna's Golden Age, 1900-1918," September 22, 2016–January 16, 2017, not in checklist (pp. 118–19 in catalogue).
Ver Sacrum 4 (March 15, 1901), p. 155, figs. 280, 338 (installation of painting in the 1901 Secession exhibition) [see Refs. Novotny and Dobai 1968 and Nebehay 1969].
Ludwig Hevesi. "Neue Bilder von Klimt: Sezession." Fremden-Blatt (March 16, 1901) [reprinted in "Acht Jahre Sezession (Marz 1897–June 1906) Kritik - Polemik - Chronik," by Ludwig Hevesi, Vienna, 1906, p. 318].
Max Eisler, ed. Gustav Klimt, eine Nachlese. Vienna, 1931, p. 15, pl. 6.
Emil Pirchan. Gustav Klimt. Vienna, 1956, p. 53, erroneously dates it 1902, and places it in the collection "L" in Geneva.
Gustav Klimt: 150 bedeutende Zeichnungen. Exh. cat., Christian M. Nebehay. Vienna, 1962, unpaginated, under no. 24.
Christian M. Nebehay. Gustav Klimt, eine Nachlese: 70 bedeutende Zeichnungen. Exh. cat., Christian M. Nebehay. Vienna, , p. 4, ill., notes that Klimt received 35,000 Kronen for it.
Fritz Novotny and Johannes Dobai. Gustav Klimt, With a Catalogue Raisonné of His Paintings. German ed. 1967. New York, 1968, pp. 312–13, 360–61, 384, no. 103, ill. p. 312 and pl. 17, date it 1899; enumerate the sketches in Vienna at the Albertina and the Historisches Museum.
Christian M. Nebehay. Gustav Klimt: Sein Leben nach zeitgenössischen Berichten und Quellen. Munich, 1969, pp. 141–42, fig. 156, places it in the E. Lederer collection, on deposit at the Kunstmuseum Basel.
Christian M. Nebehay, ed. Gustav Klimt: Dokumentation. Vienna, 1969, pp. 38, 176, 191–192 n. 2, 193, 239, 249, colorpl. 280 and fig. 338, remarks that this commission marks the beginning of Klimt's relationship with the Lederer family, who became the most important collectors of his work; reproduces a photograph of the installation of the 1901 Secession exhibition.
Johannes Dobai. Gustav Klimt. Exh. cat., Piccadilly Gallery. London, 1973, unpaginated, under no. 7.
Peter Vergo. Art in Vienna 1898–1918. London, 1975, pp. 226–27, pl. 195.
Alessandra Comini. Gustav Klimt. New York, 1975, pp. 13, 17, 30, colorpl. 4, notes the influence of Whistler.
Otto Breicha, ed. Gustav Klimt: Die Goldene Pforte, Werk - Wesen - Wirkung. Salzburg, 1978, p. 12.
Sergio Coradeschi inL'opera completa di Klimt. Milan, 1978, pp. 96–97, no. 84, ill. and colorpl. XIV.
Alice Strobl. Gustav Klimt: die Zeichnungen. Vol. 1, 1878–1903. Salzburg, 1980, pp. 143–44, ill., identifies and illustrates thirteen studies.
John Pope-Hennessy inThe Metropolitan Museum of Art: Notable Acquisitions, 1980–1981. New York, 1981, p. 47, ill. (color).
Angelica Bäumer. Gustav Klimt: Women. London, 1986, pp. 25, 50, colorpl. 11 [German ed., "Gustav Klimt: Frauen," Galerie Welz, Salzburg, 1985], incorrectly as in the Lederer collection, Geneva.
Christian M. Nebehay. Gustav Klimt, Egon Schiele, und die Familie Lederer. Bern, 1987, pp. 24–25, ill. (color).
Christian Brandstätter inGustav Klimt. Ed. Toni Stooss and Christoph Doswald. Exh. cat., Kunsthaus Zürich. Stuttgart, 1992, pp. 329–30, 366, ill. (color).
Christian M. Nebehay. Gustav Klimt, von der Zeichnung zum Bild. Vienna, 1992, pp. 194–95, 225 n. 3, fig. 226 (color), erroneously reports that Lederer paid Kr 30,000 for it.
Christian Brandstätter. Gustav Klimt und die Frauen. Vienna, 1994, pp. 54–55, ill. (color detail).
Catherine Dean. Klimt. London, 1996, pp. 21, 54–55, no. 12, colorpl. 12, suggests that Serena commissioned the portrait from Klimt after his success with that of Sonja Knips (N & D 91; Österreichische Galerie, Vienna).
Tobias G. Natter inKlimt's Women. Ed. Tobias G. Natter and Gerbert Frodl. Exh. cat., Österreichische Galerie Belvedere, Vienna. Cologne, 2000, pp. 35, 45, 48, 59, 68, 88–91, 133, 199, ill. (color) [German ed., "Klimt und die Frauen," Dumont, Cologne, 2000, pp. 36, 45, 49, 59, 62, 67, 69, 88–91, 133, 140, 199–200, ill. (color)], gives details of Serena's life and marriage, and of the Lederers' art patronage; credits the Dutch Symbolist Jan Toorop with the parallel linear structures that make up the garment; notes that Klimt preferred pale-colored dresses and comments that Serena's "empire-style 'Reformkleid,' designed for a body unrestricted by whalebone corsets, emphasizes the clearly sensual aspect of the wearer".
Marian Bisanz-Prakken inGustav Klimt: Modernism in the Making. Ed. Colin B. Bailey. Exh. cat., National Gallery of Canada. New York, 2001, pp. 107, 152, 225 n. 40, fig. 95 (color), notes that the studies for this portrait employ a compositional device that Klimt first used here, with the standing figure cut off at the top and bottom of the sheet.
Stephan Koja. Gustav Klimt Landscapes. Exh. cat.Munich, 2002, p. 196.
Sophie Lillie. Was einmal war: Handbuch der enteigneten Kunstsammlungen Wiens. Vienna, 2003, p. 664, ill. p. 661.
Sylvie Aigner inKlimt, Schiele, Moser, Kokoschka: Vienne 1900. Exh. cat., Galeries Nationales du Grand Palais. Paris, 2005, pp. 230, 234, ill. p. 231 (color), suggests that Klimt chose the modern dress worn by Lederer for this picture, noting that she allowed the artist to use her wardrobe for the models in his painting "Schubert at the Piano" of the same year (no longer extant).
Katharine Baetjer inThe Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York: Chefs-d'œuvre de la peinture européenne. Exh. cat., Fondation Pierre Gianadda. Martigny, 2006, pp. 155–60, no. 28, ill. (color, overall and details), observes that although Klimt admired Whistler, he would have only known his "Symphony in White" (National Gallery of Art, Washington) from a reproduction, which could not have conveyed its color effects; discusses this picture's similarities to Klimt's portrait of Sonia Knips (Österreichische Galerie, Vienna) and to his "Schubert at the Piano" and a sketch for "Jurisprudence" (both formerly Lederer collection, no longer extant).
Marian Bisanz-Prakken. Toorop/ Klimt. Toorop in Wenen: Inspiratie voor Klimt. Exh. cat., Gemeentemuseum, The Hague. Zwolle, The Netherlands, 2006, pp. 130–31, no. 50, ill. (color).
Alfred Weidinger inThe Women of Klimt, Schiele and Kokoschka. Exh. cat., Belvedere. Vienna, 2015, p. 216, fig. 4 (color), discusses the painting in the context of images of women in white by Klimt and other artists, suggesting that it was inspired by Fernand Khnopff's portrait "Marguerite Khnopff" (1887; Musées royaux des Beaux-Arts de Belgique, Brussels) and possibly by James McNeill Whistler's "Symphony in White, No. 1: The White Girl" (1861–62; National Gallery of Art, Washington).
Serena Lederer and her husband August Lederer were Klimt's most important patrons. They owned, among many other works, Klimt's Philosophy (Novotny and Dobai 1968 no. 87), Jurisprudence (N & D 86), and the monumental Beethoven Frieze (N & D 127; Österreichische Galerie, Vienna). Klimt painted the Lederers' daughter Elisabeth Franziska, Baroness Bachofen-Echt (N & D 188; Kunstmuseum, Basel) and Serena's mother, Charlotte Pulitzer (N & D 190; stolen, whereabouts unknown). Most of the collection was seized as Jewish property and stored at Schloss Immendorf, which the German troops ignited as the Russians approached in 1945.
For information on the thirteen preliminary drawings for this portrait, see Strobl's 1980 catalogue raisonné of Klimt's drawings. Nine drawings are at the Albertina, Vienna (nos. 442, 444, 446, 448–49, 451–54), two at the Historisches Museum der Stadt Wien (nos. 447, 450), one in the British Museum (no. 445), and one in a private collection (no. 443).