Gustav Klimt’s Medicine (Composition Draft) is one of three monumental canvases he painted for Vienna University, exploring the themes of Philosophy, Medicine, and Jurisprudence. The painting features a column of naked figures that symbolize the beginning of life, fruition, and decay. A nude young female representing Life stands alongside a central figure of Death represented as a skeleton. Hygieia, Greek goddess of health and cleanliness with a mistletoe wreath on her head also appears in the composition.
Klimt’s University paintings were among his first works to showcase the female form in vivid detail while using spirals, swirls, and phallic shapes to convey frank eroticism. Critics were disturbed by the aimless trance of the figures drifting in this painting.
In 1938 during WWII, Germany seized Medicine (Composition Draft) from its Jewish family who acquired it in 1911. Today it is considered one of Klimt’s most significant pieces showcasing his unique style and boldness towards erotic imagery while still conveying deep symbolic meaning that relates well with medicine through Hygieia’s appearance on foreground juxtaposed against beginning and end representations.