Bare Beauties

By Isabella Martinez

Based on “Water Serpents II” by Gustav Klimt


Two women lay beside one another amidst a cascade of colors, their auras interlacing in a scene of intimacy and whimsy. Stars and flowers and eyes adorn their bare bodies- symbols of light and femininity. Gustav Klimt’s depiction of the femme fatale figure in “Water Serpents II” (1904) exposes the unvarnished reality of female sensuality and rejects tradition. This allegorical work speaks of the virtue in vulnerability, a message that translates into contexts of the beauty industry. Makeup as a channel for creative expression allows individuals to challenge society by embracing the stripped, most authentic version of themselves and painting it as they please. 

Despite criticism from the peoples of 20th century Vienna,  Austrian artist Gustav Klimt created this piece by adopting the freedom of the Art Nouveau movement and painting his subjects in dynamic detail. His works primarily featured the femme fatale- a seductive woman with a mysterious allure. “Water Serpents II” introduced this message of love and sexuality with a frank eroticism no longer hidden in intricate mosaics. The alleged lesbian lovers lie naked, their pale skin and delicate curves showcased rather than shamed. 

Inspired by the elegance of feminity, Klimt’s models exist comfortably in their nudity. A bare face, free of makeup, represents this nakedness. The makeup industry markets products as a solution to imperfections, feeding off of the shame surrounding a clean slate. The simplicity of one’s natural self is then tainted by advertisements that reflect standards of unattainable beauty. Klimt’s art, however, expresses that an individual proves most beautiful when genuine. Not only does the femme fatale accept her body, but she is also empowered by her allure as a muse. A bare face, dotted with freckles and wrinkles and blemishes, is a one-of-a-kind masterpiece worthy of display. Feeling empowered in your own skin protests against the society that shamed you into submission. Reclaim your raw beauty and exist as you please. 

A blank canvas is beautiful for the possibilities it poses and the creation it can become. Makeup presents an opportunity for creative expression, from intricate displays of colors and technique to subtle hints of product. Using cosmetics to compliment your features allows you to paint a picture of self-love and acceptance. Each embellishment tells a story. In “Water Serpents II”, the elaborate mosaic of shapes and florals that encompass the women works to enhance the image visually and symbolically. The stars for inspiration and wonder, the flowers for virtue and peace, the eyes to represent clarity, and a serpent for fertility. 


Klimt’s message for this piece does not simply hide in the mythology of symbolism, he seeks to say something real. With his works deemed ‘pornographic’ by the general public, Gustav Klimt encountered a slew of controversy. “Water Serpents I”- on which this piece is based- shows a much more abstract, socially-acceptable version of the embrace. Its successor is more obvious with its allegory. This time, Klimt depicted a lesbian relationship openly, willing to defy the traditional norms set before him. All who select to wear makeup and participate in the artistry hold this same power. Those who do not fit the molds of the industry can continue to exist unapologetically, making the industry fit them. Whether it be men in makeup or women of color, cosmetics allow them to create the art that showcases their most authentic self. 

Two women lay beside one another, intertwined in a bed of eroticism and femininity- shamelessly themselves.  Stars and flowers and eyes surround their stripped figures. Beautifully bare, your fresh face prepares for its own mosaic of makeup. What picture will you paint? What stories will you tell? 

Tags: Analysis