Dame en Face mit Plisiertem Kleid is one of an important series of small-format oil portraits of women that Klimt painted between 1897 and 1898. Often reflecting the latest trends in fin-de-siècle Viennese fashion as much as the image and personality of his subject, these works are in some ways the more sedate precursors to Klimt's later full-length portraits of society women donning Wiener Werkstätte clothes that distinguished and typified his work during the last decade of his life.
With its strange, almost unearthly, lighting illuminating this unknown woman's face from below, Dame en Face mit Plisiertem Kleid is quite unique amongst these society portraits in the way in which it seems to both anticipate and reflect the more experimental and often symbolic pictorial language that Klimt was developing at this time in other paintings. In particular, the series of great, and now lost works, he had been commissioned to paint on the themes of Philosophy, Jurisprudence and Medicine for the ceiling of the Great hall of the Vienna University. The unusual perspective of this picture and the mysterious lighting up of the face from below, for example, is an element used by Klimt in the first of these great university paintings, Philosophy, and more extensively and to greater, even scandalous, dramatic effect in the figures of several women in Medicine.
In addition to the powerful effect of its unusual perspective, the dramatic contrast in Klimt's handling of the paint in this work is also of singular interest. While the face and hair of the sitter have been rendered with all the careful precision and skill of Klimt's earlier classical output, her pleated dress is delineated with bold, free-form sweeps of colour that clearly reflect the influence of Impressionism. Klimt's marriage of these two contrasting styles in this work lends the woman's dress and exaggerated decorative effect, that contrasts strongly with the soft measured tones that outline her illuminated features. This contrast again anticipates Klimt's later exaggeration of the abstract and decorative elements of a painting in conjunction with a carefully rendered portrait.
It has been suggested that this work, which hung for several years in the Osterreichische Galerie Belvedere in Vienna, depicts the wife of the collector Dr August Heymann, but there is no evidence to suggest this. Prior to its seizure by the Gestapo in 1938, this painting belonged to Bernhard Altmann, to whose heirs it was restituted in 2004.