Klimt’s Water Serpents II provides an early example of the artist’s love of Japonism and the dissemination of new ideas on the art nouveau style. More provocative in its depiction of the highly sexualized female serpents than Water Serpents I, and not masking its subject with allegorical hints, Klimt’s painting confidently experiments with line, form, and style, in an exuberant expression of the themes that would pervade his works. These themes and genres were repeated with great frequency and with deep exploration throughout his portraits, commissions, landscapes, and mythological allegories. Water Serpents II was painted around 1907 at a time with Klimt was moving away from the Jugendstil, artistic style that characterized much of his career. The style was a floral amalgamation of English Art Nouveau and the manifestation of the influence of Japanese arts and crafts traditions.
Better known than the first painting, Water Serpents II depicts a number of feminine faces and bodies in various stages of ecstasy, nestled amid patchwork reproductions of floral arrangements and stark, contrasting waves of color. The pale, almost lifeless, hue of their bodies are offset by the immediate resilience of their gaze, challenging the eye of the viewer. Unlike the first painting, Water Serpents II does not give any hint to an aquatic setting, instead allowing the water theme of the title to bathe the subjects in light and allow their bodies to float at ease within the frame of the canvas. The painting captures Klimt at his most secure and his most confident, aware of the reaction he would cause and preferring to enjoy the process of production, and pass on that pleasure to the viewer.
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