Mermaids, 1899 by Gustav Klimt

Klimt's paintings of women in water are overtly sensual. The flow of water around their curvaceous bodies is depicted as a sort of erotic caress, as their abandoned poses indicate. Hair is also heavily sexualized in Klimt's works, as it was in contemporary Vienna, and the women's trailing tresses reinforce the eroticism of the work. In the bottom right-hand corner of the painting is a bulging-eyed male head, which gazes at the female figures above with voyeuristic intent.

The painting clearly derives from Klimt's pen and ink drawing Fish Blood, which was reproduced in the third issue of Ver Sacrum. Klimt seems to have enjoyed working in pen and ink; quite possibly the absence of colour allowed him to concentrate on the composition. In Flowing Water, Klimt has been able to leave the bottom right-hand corner completely empty, bar his signature, without upsetting the balance. The fish on the bottom left-hand side reappears in Goldfish. Two later paintings by Klimt, Water Snakes I, and Water Snakes II also explore the sensual theme of women in water (see Water Snakes).