MetCollects Episode 5 / 2019


MetCollects is an online feature that highlights works of art new to the Museum's collection through the fresh eyes of photographers and the enthusiastic voices of leading scholars and artists. Discover a new work each month.

Galatea by Max Klinger. 1906

The sea goddess Galatea and a male child ride in triumph on a marble throne. Cast in pure silver, the shining figures glimmer like the waters they command. The throne's mottled dark marble and undulating shape evoke the ocean's movements, and carved on each side are fantastic dolphins that arc through the waves and intertwine their tails at the throne's back. Galatea's impassive beauty and regal bearing befit a goddess, and her assertive nudity and cross-legged pose are raw statements of power. Protectively encircled within her legs, the child clasps himself to the goddess looking up at her in adoration.

Born in Leipzig to a wealthy prominent family, Max Klinger was a gifted draftsman, printmaker, painter, and sculptor. He worked in a naturalistic figurative style and from it developed an art that was polemical in intent, uncanny in effect, and often controversial in reception. He was best known for radically inventive polychrome sculptures that were assembled from colored marbles, bronze, and semi-precious stones.

Klinger created Galatea at the height of his career when he was celebrated in German speaking countries as one of their greatest sculptors. In 1906, he presented the sculpture as his principle work at the prestigious Weimar exhibition of German contemporary art. Galateais Klinger's only stand-alone sculpture in precious metal, and his use of silver—a material associated with the functional or so-called decorative arts—challenged prevailing artistic notions. Modeled with perceptive naturalism but cast in reflective silver, Galatea seems to hover between the realms of reality and dreams.

Galatea is a distilled manifesto of Klinger's personal philosophy of art. For his subject he probably drew from Goethe's famous description of triumphant Galatea, "Grave in aspect like the gods, in dignified immortality…" (Faust II, 8387-90). In Goethe's epic poem the triumph of Galatea symbolized the marriage of the physical body and the soul. In a wider sense, Klinger's goddess and child may symbolize the union of contrasting archetypes—female and male, body and mind, sexuality and the psyche—that together represent the wellspring of human creativity. Inspired by the contemporary philosophical and psychological concepts of Nietzsche and Freud, the sculptor fashioned Galatea, a modern idol embodying the generative source of the human imagination.

In 1909, Klinger's patrons and friends Gustav and Clara Kirstein purchased Galatea. It was the only sculpture in their magnificent collection of Klinger's work that also included one painting and over eighty of the artist's drawings and prints. Gustav, who was a publisher in Leipzig, described Klinger's art as coming from the human heart, and said that "he is a man who seeks liberation and wants to give it to others."

Confiscated during the Nazi era, the Kirstein collection was restituted to their descendants in 2000. Galatea, the last great sculpture by Klinger remaining in private hands, entered The Met collection through the encouragement of Charles Hack and Angella Hearn and the generous support of the Hearn Family Trust.

Denise Allen
European Sculpture and Decorative Arts




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