Klimt's paintings were held objectionable for their sexual content as early as 1900, when 87 professors signed a petition decrying the female nudity and lax morals of the decorative ceiling paintings then in progress for the University of Vienna (see lot 317). In response to censorship and the generally repressive conservatism of Habsburg society in its twilight, Klimt sought total freedom for his art, and unbridled personal liberty to indulge his sexual passion. He loved women and was famous for his Don Juanism. He was fascinated by the new fin-de-sicle view of women, which removed them from the Victorian pedestal of proper and sexless domesticity, and placed them at the opposite extreme, as the embodiment of unlimited and potentially destructive sexual power. Drawings such as the present one, which show his female model in an auto-erotic act, proclaim this new obsession with female sexuality. Such subjects seem mild in our time, but it is important to realize what taboos they broke, and that in their time they were seen by only a select few who were probably sympathetic to the artist and shared his progressive views.
"It is not strange, in a neurotic, self-indulgent metropolis like Vienna --already titillated to the point of spontaneous combustion by the 'erotic pollution' of Arthur Schnitzler's plays and Richard Strauss's operas --that both Klimt and Freud should have focused upon sex as the primary spectacle and motivating factor of life. What is surprising is that time and the sheer beauty of Klimt's sensuous facades have obscured the blunt urgency of that artist's close and unremitting fixation upon sexuality. History seems to have ascribed the full revelation as well as exploitation of sex in art to the Expressionist and Surrealist movements, interpreting the Jugendstil generation of Klimt and indeed the whole international art nouveau movement as merely an erotic prelude. Nevertheless this prelude, orchestrated in a period of hypocritical Victorian repression, was of Wagnerian proportions -- sensuous and insistent -- a leitmotif that predicated what was to come." (A. Comini, Gustav Klimt, New York, 1975, p. 6)