Gustav Klimt Biography | Oil Painting Reproductions

7-14-1862 Baumgarten, AUT – 2-6-1918 Vienna, AUT

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Klimt, Gustav

Gustav Klimt was born in Vienna and became one of the leading lights in the city’s most dazzling, artistic period. The son of a goldsmith, he trained at the School of Applied Arts and started work as a decorative painter. He achieved early success with the schemes at the Burgtheater and the Kunsthistorisches Museum, but future commissions were threatened by his growing fascination with avant-garde art. Faced with official opposition, Gustav Klimt resigned from the Viennese Artists’ Association in 1897 and founded the Vienna Sezession, becoming its first president. This coincided with protracted disputes about his decorations for the University, a project that he abandoned in 1905.

Gustav Klimt’s style was a compelling blend of Art Nouveau and Symbolist elements. From the former, he derived his taste for sinuous, decorative lines, while from the latter he borrowed his erotic subject matter and, in particular, his interest in the theme of the femme fatale. It was this blatant eroticism which troubled the authorities, though it did not damage Klimt’s career. He was always in great demand as a portraitist, and he continued to receive private commissions for decorative schemes.

To each time its art; to each art its freedom

This is the epigraph found on the entrance to the Secession Building in Vienna, built by Otto Wagner in 1898 and decorated by Klimt with the Beethoven Frieze. The Vienna Secession, free association of artists opposed to the official academic organizations that emerged in central Europe at the end of the nineteenth-century organizations were a sign of an irreversible crisis in state-sponsored art and the reassuring image so dear to the bourgeois positivism of central Europe. The grand and imperial Vienna of waltzes and stately buildings was also the city of Freud, innovative architecture. Like Paris, still the creative center of the avant-garde, Vienna was an exciting hub of experimentation in many different artistic fields and Gustav Klimt expressed the last gleams and shadows of a waning empire.

Classically trained, Klimt began his career doing official decorative painting, but in the last decade of the nineteenth century, he became an advocate of the Secession. His was a resplendent and decorative style that echoed classical and Byzantine art and alluded to Japanese prints and the Symbolist linear style. Klimt's mysterious and seductive female figures mark the end of an era. The artists involved in the Secession became distressed witnesses to the Finis Austriae, the carnage of the war that broke out in 1914, and the dissolution of the Austrian dynasty to the tune of Radetzky March.

Gustav Klimt eroticism is intentional, in the painting Danaë, the curled position of the legendary young woman, thighs are drawn up, who receives a shower of gold seminal flow rising between her legs. Is a stunning demonstration of Klimt's mastery of technique. The legend concerns her mating with Zeus in the form of a gold shower, to conceive Perseus. The small black rectangle is Klimt's reduction of maleness to an abstract symbol.

Klimt's The Kiss, the Golden Loss of Virginity.

His most famous painting, The Kiss, is one of the most intriguing paintings of the early twentieth century. Klimt brings to perfection his personal, rich study of the relationship between figure and background, creating a unique atmosphere of total sensuous abandonment and a lush backdrop to the two embracing lovers. The two lovers seem to be encased in a golden cocoon, from which only their heads and hands emerge. Like heroes of symbolism, they wear garlands of flowers on their heads. The rigorously two-dimensional clothes of the two lovers are depicted as free, decorative additions, full of symbolic meaning. The outside of the man's cloak alternates black and white rectangular patches while the lining on the female figure is decorated with spiral motifs that accentuate the circular gesture of the embrace. The small black rectangle is Klimt's reduction of maleness to an abstract symbol as already seen in the painting Danae, the round circles for the female symbolically are the vagina.

The background distinctly suggests a mosaic with gold tesserae, creating a luminous ornamental effect. Klimt experimented with this decorative technique again in his friezes for the Palais Stoclet in Brussels, a monument that epitomizes Art Nouveau in Europe. The flowering field is a tribute to the Byzantine mosaics, but the field with flowers ends abruptly and the girl's feet cling to the very edge of the ground, while the golden backdrop gives the impression of a precipice gaping beyond. The two lovers are therefore in a precarious position. Like two teenagers about to lose their virginity for the first time, once you go over the edge, there is no coming back. Thus Klimt invokes the classic theme of the fleeting nature of youth and the rapid passing of the season most favorable to love.

With his unparalleled taste for colored and gilded decoration, in line with the development of Art Nouveau, Klimt created a masterpiece which fused Symbolism and Secession. A kiss is one of the very few gestures that has kept its significance over the millennia. Its power is further increased by the paintings richness and its range of symbolic meanings and emotional implications. Klimt's painting offers an intensely “romantic” view of the relationship between a man and a woman, and a feeling of timelessness.

Meanwhile, works from the same period by painters like Edvard Munch, Egon Schiele, and Toulouse-Lautrec was moving in a different direction. After centuries of modesty and delicacy, these artists showed the other side of the kiss: one that is brutal, possessive, and vampire-like, where one partner dominates the other to the point of total possession. Klimt, like Chagall and Matisse, restored poetry and sweetness to the kiss. Nonetheless, the kiss of death and the kiss of true love share the same moral: afterward one is never the same.

In 2006 The Austria, National Gallery was compelled by a national arbitration board to return five paintings by Gustav Klimt to a Los Angeles woman, the heir of a Jewish family that had its art stolen by the Nazis. The paintings are estimated to be worth at least $150 million. This incident was made into a Hollywood movie, The Woman in Gold. Also in 2006, the portrait, Adele Bloch-Bauer I, was purchased for the Neue Galerie New York by Ronald Lauder reportedly for US $135 million.

Art Movement History: Art Nouveau, Symbolism, Vienna Sezession
Artists Influencing Gustav Klimt: Japanese art, Hans Makart, Edvard Munch, Franz Von Stuck
He Traveled To Austria, Hungary, Belgium
Painters Gustav Klimt Influenced: Egon Schiele

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