Gustav Klimt

Art on This Day

Egon Schiele, Klimt in a light Blue Smock, 1913, pencil and gouache on paper
Gustav Klimt, one of the most renowned advocators of the Art Nouveau movement, died on this day 99 years ago. Born in Baumgarten near Vienna in 1862, he grew up in a family with an artistic mindset, with one of his brothers later joining him at the Vienna School of Arts and Crafts, and his mother known to have held unrealised ambitions of becoming a musical performer. Gustav Klimt gained recognition and praise as a conventionl academic painter and was commissioned for painting interior murals and ceilings in public buildings, often with his brother Ernst and Franz Matsch, a friend of the two. Followed by tragic deaths of Ernst and their father, Gustav Klimt begun to steer towards his unique, personal style, with symbolism starting to appear in his work, most notably through the inclusion of Nuda Veritas in Ancient Greece and Egypt (1891), Pallas Athene (1898) and other pieces.
Klimt's last public comission was to produce three works for the ceiling of the Great Hall at the University of Vienna; completed at the onset of the 20th century, the paintings - Philosophy, Medicine and Jurisprudence - brought vast attention to the artist, criticising the works as inappropriate on basis of religion, politics and aethetics, and carrying pornographic connotations. The works were eventually never put on display and were destroyed during World War 2. Seen as an author of some of the most significant bodies of erotic art, his work was often perceived as provocative, however the artist never encouraged the controvesy himself and was in fact known to prefer solitude to society. The painter was a life-long partner to fashion designer Emilie Louise Flöge, with the lovers supposedly portrayed in his famous piece The Kiss (1907-1908); he was also a father to at least fourteen children.

Gustav Klimt, The Kiss, 1907-1908, oil and gold leaf on canvas


Despite not travelling extensively throughout his life, his work demonstrates influences of Japanese art and his trips to Northern Italy; in 1904 he contributed to one of the most pivotal buildings in the Art Nouveau style, Stoclet Palace in Brussels, which he then referred to as "probably the ultimate stage of my development of ornament". Frequently working with gold leaf, his decorative paintings pursued themes of sensuality, passion and despair through skilful use of rich colours, patterns resembling a mosaic and floral elements, coupled with a strong focus on costumes.


Aside from producing a vast body of work himself, he had mentored many artists and held the role of the president of Wiener Sezession, a group promoting the works of young, unconventional artists. Klimt had a significant influence on painter Egon Schiele and often invested in his pieces; the two artists later went on to form Kunsthalle in 1917, with the aim of encouraging local artists to remain practicing in the country rather than abroad. Although given little recognition for much of the 20th century, his work is now widely popular, with Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I (1907) ranking as 11th highest-priced pieces of art of all time.