Gustav Klimt (July 14, 1862– February 6, 1918) was an Austrian Symbolist painter and one of the most prominent members of the Vienna Secession movement. His major works include paintings,murals, sketches, and other art objects. Klimt’s primary subject was the female body, and his works are marked by a frank eroticism—nowhere is this more apparent than in his numerous drawings in pencil
Allegory of Sculpture. 1889. Pencil and watercolor heightened with gold on cardboard. 43.5 x 30 cm. Austrian Museum of Applied Arts, Vienna, Austria.
Life and work
Early life and education
Gustav Klimt was born in Baumgarten, near Vienna in Austria-Hungary, the second of seven children—three boys and four girls. All three sons displayed artistic talent early on. Klimt’s younger brothers were Ernst Klimt and Georg Klimt. His father, Ernst Klimt the Elder, formerly from Bohemia, was a gold engraver Ernst married
Photographic portrait from 1914
Anna Klimt (née Finster), whose unrealized ambition was to be a musical performer. Klimt lived in poverty for most of his childhood, as work was scarce and economic advancement was difficult for immigrants.
WOMAN SITTING IN ARMCHAIR
In 1876, Klimt was awarded a scholarship to the Vienna School of Arts and Crafts (Kunstgewerbeschule), where he studied until 1883, and received training as an architectural painter. He revered the foremost history painter of the time, Hans Makart. Klimt readily accepted the principles of a conservative training; his early work may be classified as academic.
Fishblood. Original destroyed. 1898. Pen and ink. From Ver Sacrum Nr 3.
In 1877 his brother Ernst, who, like his father, would become an engraver, also enrolled in the school. The two brothers and their friend Franz Matsch began working together; by 1880 they had received numerous commissions as a team they called the “Company of Artists”, and helped their teacher in painting murals in the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna.
Klimt began his professional career painting interior murals and ceilings in large public buildings on the Ringstraße including a successful series of “Allegories and Emblems”.
The Virgin. 1913. Oil on canvas. 190 x 200 cm. Narodni Gallery, Prague, Czechia
In 1888, Klimt received the Golden order of Merit from Emperor Franz Josef I of Austria for his contributions to murals painted in the Burgtheater in Vienna. He also became an honorary member of the University of Munich and the University of Vienna. In 1892 both Klimt’s father and brother Ernst died, and he had to assume financial responsibility for his father’s and brother’s families. The tragedies affected his artistic vision as well, and soon he would veer toward a new personal style. In the early 1890s, Klimt met Emilie Flöge, who, notwithstanding the artist’s relationships with other women, was to be his companion until the end of his life. Whether his relationship with Flöge was sexual or not is debated, but during that period Klimt fathered at least 14 children.
Hope-II 1907-1908 Museum-of-Modern-Art, New York
Vienna secession years
Klimt became one of the founding members and president of the Wiener Sezession (Vienna Secession) in 1897 and of the group’s periodical Ver Sacrum (“Sacred Spring”). He remained with the Secession until 1908. The group’s goals were to provide exhibitions for unconventional young artists, to bring the best foreign artists’ works to Vienna, and to publish its own magazine to showcase members’ work The group declared no manifesto and did not set out to encourage any particular style—Naturalists, Realists, and Symbolists all coexisted. The government supported their efforts and gave them a lease on public land to erect an exhibition hall. The group’s symbol was Pallas Athena, the Greek goddess of just causes, wisdom, and the arts—and Klimt painted his radical version in 1898.
Judith and the Head of Holofernes, 1901. Belvedere, Vienna
In 1894, Klimt was commissioned to create three paintings to decorate the ceiling of the Great Hall in the University of Vienna. Not completed until the turn of the century, his three paintings,Philosophy, Medicine and Jurisprudence were criticized for their radical themes and material, which was called “pornographic”. Klimt had transformed traditional allegory and symbolism into a new language which was more overtly sexual, and hence more disturbing. The public outcry came from all quarters—political, aesthetic, and religious.
Jurisprudence 1899-1907. Destroyed 1945
As a result, they were not displayed on the ceiling of the Great Hall. This would be the last public commission accepted by the artist. All three paintings were destroyed by retreating SS forces in May 1945. His Nuda Verita (1899) defined his bid to further shake up the establishment. The starkly naked red-headed woman holds the mirror of truth, while above it is a quotation by Schiller in stylized lettering, “If you cannot please everyone with your deeds and your art, please a few. To please many is bad.”
Medicine 1899-1907. Destroyed 1945
In 1902, Klimt finished the Beethoven Frieze for the 14th Vienna Secessionist exhibition, which was intended to be a celebration of the composer and featured a monumental, polychromed sculpture by Max Klinger.
The Beethoven Frieze The Hostile Powers Far Wall. 1902 The Österreichische Galerie Belvedere, Vienna, Austria.
The Beethoven Frieze The Hostile Powers. Left part, detail. 1902. The Österreichische Galerie Belvedere, Vienna, Austria.
The Beethoven Frieze The Hostile Powers. Right part, detail. 1902. The Österreichische Galerie Belvedere, Vienna, Austria.
The Beethoven Frieze The Longing for Happiness. Left wall. 1902. The Österreichische Galerie Belvedere, Vienna, Austria.
The Beethoven Frieze The Longing for Happiness. Left wall. 1902. The Österreichische Galerie Belvedere, Vienna, Austria.
The Beethoven Frieze The Longing for Happiness Finds Repose in Poetry. Right wall. 1902. The Österreichische Galerie Belvedere, Vienna, Austria.
NUDE WITH SPREAD LEGS
Meant for the exhibition only, the frieze was painted directly on the walls with light materials. After the exhibition the painting was preserved, although it did not go on display until 1986. The face on the Beethoven portrait resembled the composer and Vienna Court Opera director Gustav Mahler, with whom Klimt had a respectful relationship.
Philosophie 1899-1907. Destroyed 1945
During this period Klimt did not confine himself to public commissions. Beginning in the late 1890s he took annual summer holidays with the Flöge family on the shores of Attersee and painted many of his landscapes there. Klimt was largely interested in painting figures; these works constitute the only genre aside from figure-painting which seriously interested Klimt Klimt’s Attersee paintings are of a number and quality so as to merit a separate appreciation. Formally, the landscapes are characterized by the same refinement of design and emphatic patterning as the figural pieces. Deep space in the Attersee works is so efficiently flattened to a single plane, it is believed that Klimt painted them while looking through a telescope.
The Kiss 1907–1908. Oil on canvas. Österreichische Galerie Belvedere
Golden phase and critical success
Klimt’s ‘Golden Phase’ was marked by positive critical reaction and success. Many of his paintings from this period used gold leaf; the prominent use of gold can first be traced back to Pallas Athene (1898) and Judith I (1901), although the works most popularly associated with this period are the Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I (1907) and The Kiss (1907–1908). Klimt travelled little but trips to Venice andRavenna, both famous for their beautiful mosaics, most likely inspired his gold technique and his Byzantine imagery.
Danaë painted 1907. Private Collection, Vienna
In 1904, he collaborated with other artists on the lavish Palais Stoclet, the home of a wealthy Belgian industrialist, which was one of the grandest monuments of the Art Nouveau age. Klimt’s contributions to the dining room, including both Fulfillment and Expectation, were some of his finest decorative work, and as he publicly stated, “probably the ultimate stage of my development of ornament.” Between 1907 and 1909, Klimt painted five canvases of society women wrapped in fur. His apparent love of costume is expressed in the many photographs of Flöge modeling clothing he designed.
Three Ages of Woman, 1905, Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Moderna, Rome
As he worked and relaxed in his home, Klimt normally wore sandals and a long robe with no undergarments. His simple life was somewhat cloistered, devoted to his art and family and little else except the Secessionist Movement, and he avoided café society and other artists socially. Klimt’s fame usually brought patrons to his door, and he could afford to be highly selective. His painting method was very deliberate and painstaking at times and he required lengthy sittings by his subjects. Though very active sexually, he kept his affairs discreet and he avoided personal scandal.
The Friends, 1916-17.
Klimt wrote little about his vision or his methods. He wrote mostly postcards to Flöge and kept no diary. In a rare writing called “Commentary on a non-existent self-portrait”, he states “I have never painted a self-portrait. I am less interested in myself as a subject for a painting than I am in other people, above all women…There is nothing special about me. I am a painter who paints day after day from morning to night…Who ever wants to know something about me… ought to look carefully at my pictures.”
Later life and posthumous success.
Mäda Primavesi. 1912. Oil on canvas. 150 × 110 cm. Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.
In 1911 his painting Death and Life received first prize in the world exhibitions in Rome. In 1915 his mother Anna died. Klimt died three years later in Vienna on February 6, 1918, having suffered astroke and pneumonia due to the influenza epidemic of 1918. He was buried at the Hietzing Cemetery in Vienna. Numerous paintings were left unfinished.
Adam and Eva (unfinished) 1917-1918. Oil on canvas 175 x 60 cm. The Österreichische Galerie Belvedere, Vienna, Austria
Klimt’s paintings have brought some of the highest prices recorded for individual works of art. In November 2003, Klimt’s Landhaus am Attersee sold for $29,128,000, but that was soon eclipsed by prices paid for other Klimts.
Portrait of Hermine Gallia, 1904. National Gallery, London
In 2006, the 1907 portrait, Adele Bloch-Bauer I, was purchased for the Neue Galerie New York by Ronald Lauder for a reported US $135 million, surpassing Picasso’s 1905 Boy With a Pipe (sold May 5, 2004 for $104 million), as the highest reported price ever paid for a painting.
Avenue in Schloss Kammer Park, 1912. Belvedere, Vienna
On August 7, 2006, Christie’s auction house announced it was handling the sale of the remaining four works by Klimt that were recovered by Maria Altmann and her co-heirs after their long legal battle against Austria (see Republic of Austria v. Altmann).
Adele Bloch-Bauer I, which sold for a record $135 million in 2006. Neue Galerie, New York.
Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer II was sold at auction in November 2006 for $88 million, the third-highest priced piece of art at auction at the time.
Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer II. 1912. Oil on canvas. 190 x 120 cm. Private collection
The Apple Tree I (ca. 1912) sold for $33 million, Birch Forest (1903) sold for $40.3 million, and Houses in Unterach on Lake Atter (1916) sold for $31 million. Collectively, the five restituted paintings netted over $327 million. A routine Attersee painting fetched $40.4 million at Sotheby’s in November 2011.
The city of Vienna, Austria will have many special exhibitions commemorating Klimt’s 150th birthday in 2012.
Egon Schiele, Klimt in a light Blue Smock, 1913
Das Werk Gustav Klimts
The only folio set produced in Klimt’s lifetime, Das Werk Gustav Klimts was initially published by H.O. Miethke (of Gallerie Miethke, Klimt’s exclusive gallery in Vienna) from 1908 to 1914 in an edition of 300 and was supervised by the artist himself.
Lady with Hat and Featherboa. 1909. Oil on canvas. 69 x 55 cm. The Österreichische Galerie Belvedere, Vienna, Austria.
Fifty images depicting Klimt’s most important paintings (1893-1913) were reproduced using collotype lithography, mounted on a heavy, cream-colored wove paper with deckled edges. Thirty-one of the images (ten of which are multicolored) are printed on Chine-collé, while the remaining nineteen are incredibly high quality halftones prints. Each piece was marked with a unique signet – designed by Klimt himself – which was impressed into the wove paper in gold metallic ink.
Fredericke Maria Beer. 1916. Oil on canvas. 168 x 130 cm. Private collection
The prints were issued in groups of ten to subscribers, in unbound black paper folders embossed with the artist’s name. Due to the delicate nature of collotype lithography, as well as the necessity for multicolored prints (a feat difficult to reproduce with collotypes) and Klimt’s own desire for perfection, the series that was published in mid 1908 was not completed until 1914.
Music. 1895. Oil on canvas. 37 x 44.5 cm. Bayerische Staatsgemaldesammlungen, Neue Pinakothek, Munich, Germany
Each of the fifty prints were categorized among five themes:
1. Allegorical (which included multicolored prints of The Golden Knight, 1903 and The Virgin, c.1912)
2. Mythical/Biblical (Pallas Athena, 1898; Judith and The Head of Holofernes, 1901; and Danaë, c.1908)
3. Portraits (Emilie Flöge, 1902)
4. Erotic-Symbolist (Water Serpents I and II, both c.1907-08 and The Kiss, c.1908)
5. Landscapes (The Sunflower, c. 1906.)
Sculpture. 1896. 41.8 x 31.3 cm Historical Museum of the City of Vienna, Vienna, Austria.
The monochrome collotypes as well as the halftone works were printed with a variety of colored inks ranging from sepia, blue, and green.
Franz Joseph I of Austria was the first person to purchase Das Werk Gustav Klimts in 1908.
Portrait of a Girl. 1902. 45.2 x 31.9 cm. Historical Museum of the City of Vienna, Vienna, Austria.
Fünfundzwanzig Handzeichnungen was released the year after Klimt’s death and collected 25 drawings, many of which were erotic in nature and just as polarizing as his painted works.
Published in Vienna in 1919 by Gilhofer & Ranschburg, the edition of 500 features twenty-five monochrome and two-color collotype reproductions nearly indistinguishable from the drawings they originated from. While the set was released a year after Klimt’s death, some art historians suspect he was involved with pre-production due to the printing’s meticulous nature (Klimt had overseen the production of the plates for Das Werk Gustav Klimts, making sure each one was to his exact specifications, a level of quality carried through inFünfundzwanzig Handzeichnungen.) The first ten editions contained an original drawing by Klimt as well.
Fable. 1883. Oil on canvas. 84.5 x 117 cm. Historical Museum of the City of Vienna, Vienna, Austria.
Many of the works contained in this volume depict erotic scenes of nude women, some of whom are masturbating alone or are coupled in sapphic embraces. When a number of the original drawings were exhibited to the public at Gallerie Miethke in 1910 and the International Exhibition of Prints and Drawings in Vienna in 1913, they were met by critics and viewers who were not shy about their hostility towards Klimt’s contemporary perspective.
Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer Woman In Gold
There was an audience for Klimt’s erotic drawings however: 15 of his drawings were selected by Viennese poet Franz Blei for his translation of Hellenistic satirist Lucian’s Dialogues of the Courteseans. The book, limited to 450 copies, provided Klimt the opportunity to show these more lurid depictions of women and avoided censoring thanks to a minute group of affluent (mostly male) audience.
Idylle (Idylls). 1884. 49.5 x 73.5 cm. Historical Museum of the City of Vienna, Vienna, Austria.
Gustav Klimt An Aftermath
Composed in 1931 by editor Max Eisler and printed by the Austrian State Printing Office, Gustav Klimt An Aftermath was intended to complete the lifetime folio Das Werk Gustav Klimts. The folio contains 30 colored collotypes (fourteen of which are multicolored) and follows a similar structure found in Das Werk Gustav Klimts, replacing the unique Klimt-designed signets with gold-debossed plate numbers. 150 sets were produced in English, with 20 of them (Nos. I-XX) presented as a “gala edition” bound in gilt leather. The set contains detail images from previously released works (Hygeia from the University Mural Medicine, 1901; a section of the third University Mural Jurisprudence, 1903) as well as unfinished paintings (Adam and Eve; Bridal Progress.)
Sappho. 1888-90. 39 x 31.6 cm. Historical Museum of the City of Vienna, Vienna, Austria
According to the writer Frank Whitford : ” Klimt of course, is an important artist – he’s a very popular artist – but in terms of the history of art, he’s a very unimportant artist. Although he sums up so much in his work, about the society in which he found himself – in art historical terms his effect was negligible. So he’s an artist really in a cul-de-sac.”
Nuda Veritas. 1899. Oil on canvas. 260 x 64.5 cm. Austrian National Library, Vienna, Austria.
Klimt’s work had a strong influence on the paintings of Egon Schiele, whom he would collaborate with to found the Kunsthalle (Hall of Art) in 1917, to try to keep local artists from going abroad.
National Public Radio reported on January 17, 2006 that “The Austrian National Gallery is being 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.”
Pear Tree. 1903. 100 x 100 cm. Fogg Art Museum, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA, USA
Klimt’s work has spawned many reinterpretations, including the works of Slovak artist Rudolf Fila.
Couturier John Galliano found inspiration for the Christian Dior Spring-Summer 2008 haute couture collection in Klimt’s work.
Judith, II. (Salome). 1909. Oil on canvas. 178 x 46 cm. Galleria d’Arte Moderna, Venice, Italy.
Romanian poet Sebastian Reichmann has published in 2008 a book called Mocheta lui Klimt (Klimt’s Carpet). As the author says in an interview and even in one of the poems from the book, the title was inspired by a carpet from a train he often attended, carpet that reminded him of Klimt’s paintings. Also, the front cover depicts an Art Nouveau-styled passage from Bucharest.
Portrait of a Lady. ca 1916-1917. 60 x 55 cm. Galleria Ricci-Oddi, Piacenza, Italy.
South Korean novelist Kim Young-ha frequently refers to Klimt, particularly Judith, in his first novel I Have The Right To Destroy Myself.
WOMAN SEATED WITH LEGS SPREAD
One of the main characters in this novel is referred to by the other characters as Judith because of her resemblance to Klimt’s painting and is thus also known primarily as Judith to the reader.
Water Nymphs (Silverfish). ca. 1899. Oil on canvas. 82 x 52 cm. Private collection
Several of Klimt’s most famous works from his golden period inspired a Japanese animation title sequence for the series Elfen Lied, in which the art is recreated to fit with the series’ own characters and is arranged as a montage with the song “Lilium”. The opening to the anime Sound of the Sky is also largely inspired by Klimt’s works.
Portrait of Helene Klimt. 1898. Oil on cardboard. 60 x 40 cm. Private collection.
The Painting Gold Coin
Gustav Klimt and his work have been the subjects of many collector coins and medals. The most recent and prominent one is the famous 100 euro Painting Gold Coin, issued on November 5, 2003. The obverse depicts Klimt in his studio with two unfinished paintings on easels.
Klimt and His Women Gold Coin Series
The Austrian Mint will begin a 5 coin gold series in 2011 to coincide with the 150th anniversary of Gustav Klimt’s birth. The first 50 Euro gold coin will be issued on January 25, 2012 and feature a portrait of Klimt on the obverse and a portion of the painting of Adele Bloch-Bauer.
The painting coin, featuring Gustav Klimt 2003
Exhibitions Commemorating Klimt’s 150th Birthday in 2012
In addition to the permanent exhibitions on display, the city of Vienna, Austria will celebrate the 150th birthday of Klimt with special exhibitions all over the city. Also, guided walking tours through the city will allow people to see some of the buildings where Klimt worked.
Gustav Klimt Tomb