Little is known about the artistic education of Otto Friedrich, as the first mention of the artist relates the gold medal that he won in Berlin in 1887. He is next recorded as working in Munich where it is believed he spent the remainder of his artistic career.
Early 20th Century writings mention his transition from the Academic to Secessionist movements: ‘Otto Friedrich was a pious painter of saints and sacred objects. Now he has become a rather enigmatic allegorist, who draws more than he paints’ (L. Kellner, P. Arnold, A. L. Delisle, Austria of the Austrians and Hungary of the Hungarians, London, 1914, p. 107).
In Eitelkeit, the artist has certainly made very clear his distance from an artistic Academic tradition. He has even turned away from the categorical tenets of Impressionism as espoused by Claude Monet and has embraced the innovation and progressive styles of Renoir and Cezanne. The more linear brushwork is more characteristic of Post-Impressionist artists.
A striking red-haired woman is seated in her boudoir, completely naked, her white skin almost glowing with the addition of pink and peach pigment. She admires herself in a silver mirror, her pet monkey at her knees. The significance of the monkey is not clear: throughout Western art the monkey is regarded as a symbol of lust and man’s baser instincts. The inclusion of the monkey could perhaps be read as an observation of the naked woman’s virtue. It is not clear whether she is a prostitute or simply extraordinarily vain, as the title suggests. This enigmatic quality brings to mind the work of the Symbolist artists of the turn of the century as well as the early work of Gustave Klimt.