A pregnant woman bows her head and closes her eyes, as if praying for the safety of her child. Peeping out from behind her stomach is a death’s head, a looming sign of the danger she faces. At her feet, three women with lowered heads raise their hands, presumably also in prayer—although their solemnity might also imply mourning, as if they foresaw the child’s fate. Why, then, the painting’s title? Klimt himself called this work Vision, although he had titled an earlier, related painting of a pregnant woman Hope. By association with the earlier work, this one has become known as Hope, II.
Klimt was among the many European artists of his time who were inspired by cultural traditions from outside their own milieu. He lived in Vienna, a crossroads of East and West, and he drew on sources such as Byzantine art, Mycenaean metalwork, Persian rugs and miniatures, the mosaics of the Ravenna churches, and Japanese screens. In this painting, the woman’s gold-patterned robe—drawn flat, as clothing is in Russian icons, although her flesh is rounded and dimensional—has an extraordinary decorative beauty. Here birth, death, and the sensuality of the living exist side by side, suspended in equilibrium.
Publication excerpt from MoMA Highlights: 375 Works from The Museum of Modern Art, New York (New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 2019)
Although images of women and children are frequent in the history of art, depictions of pregnancy are rare. In Hope, II a woman with a skull nestled into her gown lowers her head toward her swelling belly. Below, three women also bow their heads in prayer or in mourning. Ornate decoration nearly overwhelms the painting’s surface. Klimt was committed to craftwork, and he was among the many artists of his time who combined archaic traditions—here Byzantine gold-leaf painting—with a modern psychological subject. Klimt lived and worked in turn-of-the-century Vienna, home to Sigmund Freud, the father of psychoanalysis; the artist’s preoccupation with formative drives like sex and death paralleled Freud’s explorations of the psyche.
Gallery label from 2019