Gustav Klimt Art & his Most Famous Paintings
Sep 28, 2020
'Gustav Klimt

by Alina Livneva

Sep 28, 2020

Gustav Klimt Art & his Most Famous Paintings

Most of us recognize Gustav Klimt as the artist who painted The Kiss, the 1907 masterpiece, where certain two figures merge one another in a tempting embrace. They tie their bodies together in the same cloth: a glistening gold tapestry, the pattern of which relates to both affection and anatomy. The man's hand is lined with upright rectangles, whereas the woman is encased with concentric circles.

The Kiss, 1907

'The Kiss, 1907
One of Austria's most significant modern artists, Gustav Klimt, was the creator and prominent figure in the Vienna Secession movement-a party of skilled artisans who had rebelled against art nouveau in pursuit of the decorative style of Art Nouveau. Klimt attended the Vienna University of Arts and Crafts in 1876 and formed the "Company of Artists" with his two brothers and a friend, following which the Emperor of Vienna awarded him the Golden Order of Merit. His father and one of his brothers died in 1892, leaving him liable to their families. His conceptual vision was also disturbed by the family tragedy, which further helped him establish his design.

The master of symbolism, Klimt was the leader of the Vienna Secession movement. In the vivid, frivolously painted figures and patterns that dominated his canvases, murals, and mosaics, he embedded allusions to sexuality and the human psyche. Sometimes, just barely disguised, were their messages of gratification, sexual empowerment, and human misery.

The Viennese establishment was scandalized by his more risky pieces, depicting voluptuous nudes and mountains of entwined bodies.

voluptuous nudes
Klimt felt that he could comfortably pursue his interest in human form through classical themes, such as the hardships and struggles of Greek gods and mystical figures. He was progressively influenced by the rejection of more conventional approaches to art by the Viennese avant-garde, preferring classicism, logic, and naturalism. Klimt's work broke dramatically from the artistic norm in this search to know what he desired. He set in motion a new era of figuration that initiated rigid principles of naturalism and classicism.

To adorn the Great Hall of the University of Vienna's ceiling, Klimt was tasked to design three paintings. It wasn't until the beginning of the century, his three paintings, Medicine, Philosophy, and Jurisprudence, were ridiculed for their radical themes and content, and were deemed "erotic." Klimt had turned the conventional parable and metaphors into a modern vocabulary that was more openly erotic and thus more disturbing to others. The public objection came from all quarters—political, aesthetic, and religious. Consequently, the paintings (seen throughout the gallery below) were not shown on the ceiling of the Great Hall. This would be the last public commission taken by the artist.

Gustav Klimt Painting

' black and white drawing
This black and white drawing was first published in 1898 in the ver sacrum. It is one of the first Klimt's first pictures in which he focuses on depicting the female body and the characteristics of moving water. The eroticism of the female figure in his painting had been freed from all social conventions and boundaries dominated by moral dogma of that time. In his paintings, the female bodies merge with the surrounding nature, lazily following the current and offering no resistance.

Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I, 1907

'Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I, 1907
Gustav Klimt's 'Golden Phase' was marked by a certain critical reaction and success.

Klimt's marvelous additions to the dining room, including both Fulfillment and Expectation, were some of his finest ornamental work, and as he publicly stated, "probably the ultimate stage of my development of ornament. Gold leaf was used in many of his paintings from this era; the prominent usage gold can first be attributed directly to Pallas Athene (1898) and Judith I (1901), even though the Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I (1907) and The Kiss (1907-1908) are the words most commonly associated with this era.

Klimt traveled to Venice and Ravenna less than his travels, both famous for their exquisite mosaics, most possibly influenced by his notorious methodology of gold and his Byzantine symbolism. In 1904, he worked with other artists in the glamorous Palais Stoclet, home to a wealthy Belgian industrialist, among the Art Nouveau period's most magnificent monuments.

The Virgin (Die Jungfrau), 1913

The Virgin (Die Jungfrau), 1913
This painting by Klimt depicts a virgin surrounded by six nude women. The painting that was completed in 1913 has several different interpretations regarding its meaning, with the dominant being that it represents the transformation into womanhood. The spirals on the drapery that are argued to symbolize fertility and the Virgin's parted legs, suggesting sexual maturity, support this interpretation. One of Klimt's allegorical paintings' key parts can be seen at the National Gallery in Prague, Czech Republic.

The Fulfilment, 1904

The Fulfilment, 1904
Gustav Klimt's The Fulfillment, man, and woman deeply embrace each other. But, as with The Kiss, the true message is in the ornaments that cover them nearly completely. The woman's flower dress makes her the emblem of the world that melts in the male light. The male lover's coat is decorated with the ancient Egyptian symbols of the sun god. The swirls depict the tree of life in the background. In the Fulfilment, Klimt extended the theme of the Beethoven Frieze lovers with a sense that celebrates the life and the world itself. The art is based on one of Klimt's three 15-part mosaic friezes for the Brussels-based Stoclet Palace dining room, designed by his architect friend and Austrian colleague, Josef Hoffmann.

Expectation, showing a single woman, and Tree of Life, are the other important mosaic friezes, showing the tree used in Fulfilment and Expectation as a backdrop.

Death and Life, 1910

Death and Life, 1910
Life would have been a beautiful dream if there wasn't death standing right next to it. In his allegory of death and life, Klimt visualizes death as a single nasty threat that stands well apart from life, rather than forming part of it. From babies to young people and an older woman, life comes in different shapes. Painted in 1910, the painting was awarded the first prize of the International Art Exhibition in Rome a year later. In 1915, he restored parts of the painting, such as the background and some embellishments.

In 1918, 11th January, Gustav Klimt suffered thrombosis, is paralyzed on the right side, and taken to the hospital. On 6th February he died due to lung infection. Arthur Roessler writes:” Gustav Klimt has passed away …the insatiable eyes which saw only the beautiful in everything they contemplated are now unseeing…. Death, which Klimt often envisioned in his inspiring imagination and as an artist, rendered more than once in dreadful and grasping form, has now breathed coldly on him.”

About author Alina Livneva was born 1985 in Saint Petersburg, Russia. She studied at Saint Petersburg Academy of Arts. Educated in Russia and the United States. Lives in Miami. Has also lived in Russia. Contemporary Art. Collections expert, exhibitions and loans.

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