The Klimt University Of Vienna Ceiling Paintings, sometime referred to as the Faculty Paintings, are a series of three paintings that were created between 1900 and 1907 and which were destroyed by retreating Nazi forces in 1945. As the name of the series implies, they were created for the ceiling of the University Of Vienna Great Hall and each painting named after a specific theme – Philosophy, Medicine and Jurisprudence. Klimt was initially commissioned to create the works in 1894, but unfortunately when he actually got around to completing the works the public reaction was so overwhelmingly negative, with the paintings being described as ‘pornography’ and ‘perverted excess’ that they never went on display at the University.

Philosophy was the first of the three paintings to be completed, and Klimt presented it to the Austrian Government at the seventh Vienna Secession exhibition in 1900. The oil painting had already been awarded a gold medal at the 1900 World Exhibition in Paris but sadly for Klimt, his work didn't receive such an enthusiastic welcome in his native Austria. The original brief that Klimt had received from the University stated that theme of the work should be ‘The victory of light over darkness’. This was how Klimt had originally described the work - “On the left a group of figures, the beginning of life, fruition, decay. On the right, the globe as mystery. Emerging below, a figure of light: knowledge.”

Despite Klimt’s pitch, critics were unimpressed with how the work turned out, criticising the lackadaisical and aimless trance-like nature of the painting’s figures and stating that it evoked neither feelings of optimism or rationalism but was like a “viscous void”. Medicine was the next work that was completed, presented at the tenth Vienna Secession exhibition in 1901. The painting featured a column of nude figures representing the river of life on the right hand side with a nude female floating in the centre and an infant floating at her feet. The work sought to display the ambiguous unity of life and death, but unfortunately it didn’t quite cover what the University had hoped for which was the celebration of the role of medicine and science of healing.

Zero for two, Klimt’s third work in the series Jurisprudence didn’t fare much better when it was presented at the eighteenth Vienna Secession exhibition in 1903 (those guys really exhibited a lot). It features three female furies, Truth, Justice and Law, who are punishing a condemned man with an octopus’s deadly embrace. The psycho-sexual connotations in the work and the anxiety that it evoked meant that it too was rejected by the University. A total of 87 members of the University’s faculty protested against the works and the issue was even raised at the Austrian Parliament although no action was taken. It was to be the last time that Klimt would accept a commission from the state, saying, “I’ve had enough of censorship … I reject all state support, I don’t want any of it.”

Although the State refused to display the works, they insisted that they were still their property. Klimt only managed to retain possession of the paintings by threatening the removal men with a shotgun. The paintings then passed through various hands before being taken to Schloss Immendorf, a castle in southern Austria, in 1943 for safekeeping. Sadly the castle was destroyed by fire by retreating German SS forces in May of 1945, and the paintings were lost forever. All that remains now is photograph of a section of Medicine, shown above, and some preparatory sketches.