Sunday, September 16, 2018


Beloved Muse – Emilie Flöge by Penny Black.

Directed by Heidelinde Leutgoeb. Music Georg Buxhofer. Lighting Jed Buchanan. Stage management William Malam. Produced by Belvedere. Supported by the Austrian Embassy Canberra. Street Two. The Street Theatre, September 13-16. 2018

Reviewed by Peter Wilkins

Gustav Klimt and Emilie Flöge in her original strip[ed dress


Who amongst the art lovers of the world has not heard of Gustav Klimt, the charismatic leader of Vienna’s Secession Movement of the early twentieth Century? Who is not familiar with his iconic portrait in glittering gold of a man and woman in an intimate embrace?  Many may consider the man in the famous portrait of The Kiss to be a self portrait. But what of the model? What does the viewer know of the model and muse in the painting?
Maxi Blaha as Emilie Flöge

Enter Viennese actress, Maxi Blaha,  a vision of elegant composure, statuesque in her diaphanous dress, autocratic with her hair piled high in fashionable style, gracefully moving across the patterned carpet to sit on the low wooden bench.  Alongside her, musician Georg Buxhofer on electric bass punctuates her  solo performance with accompanying chords.

Blaha is the ideal vision of Klimt’s model, muse and intellectual partner of twenty seven years, Emilie Flöge.  And yet, how many people know of her life, as extraordinary as that of her famous artist. For a thoroughly absorbing hour, Blaha introduces us to the chapters of Flöge’s life and the enormous influence she had on Klimt’s work as well as the Viennese haute couture fashion and lifestyle.

From the outset we are introduced to a woman of strong character, an independent woman, in business with her sisters at their dress salon, Sisters Flöge on the fashionable Mariahilferstrasse. Playwright Penny Black leads us on a chronological journey through key episodes in this remarkable woman’s life. Flöge’s story commences at the time of Klimt’s death in February 1918. It is said that Klimt’s final words were “Get Emilie” or “Emilie must come” But Flöge is no lapdog to succumb to a master’s demanding call. She is a woman of independent means and independent will, a partner, who would provide dresses for Klimt’s models while he would send his clients to Flöge’s salon to buy clothes that cost the price of a small house on Lake Attersee, disbanded of corsets and inspired the fashions of Coco Chanel.
The Kiss by Gustav Klimt

Beloved Muse – Emilie Flöge reveals a feminist of strong convictions, confronting and challenging convention. Blaha presents a woman, capable of jealousy, loyal and devoted, resourceful and strongly opinionated. She criticizes Klimt’s misogynistic view of the lovers in The Kiss with the woman in a suppliant pose while the dominant male figure hovers over her. Blaha invites the audience to look beyond the image to glean a deeper meaning in a performance that is as thought provoking as it is illuminating and entertaining. 

This gentle gem of a show suffers no ostentation. Revelations of the disastrous events of the Great Depression, the Second World War and the tragic destruction of Flöge’s costumes and Klimt’s sketches in a bombed house in Vienna are told with simple sentiment, all the more dramatic for their philosophical acceptance of life’s misfortunes. Buxhofer’s musical accompaniment and Blaha’s removal of the reversible dress, made with eighteen metres of material to reveal a simple black slip reveals a woman of our time and all time, a woman, customarily depicted as a victim of the stereotype and yet, through Black’s one woman play and Blaha’s measured and intimate performance , revealed as an icon in her own right, a modern role model for all women of all time. Klimt’s muse is the muse for all society, and Maxi Blaha the perfect woman to bring Emilie Flöge to the world.