Carolyn and I have long admired the exquisite work of the late Austrian painter Gustav Klimt, who is Carolyn’s all-time favorite artist, along with Picasso.
Gustav Klimt was an influential Austrian symbolist artist who is known for his uniquely stylized paintings. His work had a lasting impact on the development of modern art, and his paintings are among the most recognizable and beloved pieces of art today.
Klimt’s most well known works date from the early 1900s. His paintings during this period focused on symbolism, eroticism, and the female form. Klimt used a variety of techniques and materials, including gold and silver leaf, to create his iconic works of art. His use of color, pattern, and symbolism helped to create an unmistakable style that influenced many of the artistic movements that followed.
Klimt was born in 1862 in the outskirts of Vienna, Austria. His father was an engraver and goldsmith, and his mother was an amateur musician, which likely had an important influence on Klimt’s art. Klimt attended the Vienna School of Arts and Crafts, where he learned the basics of painting and drawing, and was accepted into the Vienna Academy of Fine Arts, where he studied for six years. During his early years as a painter, he created mostly landscape paintings and portraits in the academic style of the late 19th century, and was a successful painter of conventional architectural decorations. Klimt was also a talented architect and designer, who designed furniture and interior decorations, as well as a group of buildings in Vienna.
In 1897 Klimt co-founded the Vienna Secession group with other artists, architects, and designers. This was an art and design movement, which sought to promote modern artwork, architecture, and design in Vienna and elsewhere. Here Klimt was exposed to more modern, progressive styles of painting. He also studied the work of other great painters such as Rubens, Botticelli, and Klimt’s mentor, Hans Makart. Through this combination of formal training and studying the greats, Klimt was able to develop his own most original style of painting.
Klimt was also influenced by the mysticism of the Symbolist movement, and the medieval mosaics that he saw on his travels to Venice and Ravenna in 1903 were most inspiring. Some of his best-known works followed after this journey, including Kiss in 1908, and his portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer, which was completed between 1903 and 1907.
Although Klimt’s artwork is associated with sensuous and erotic depictions of women, he never married. However, he found inspiration in Emilie Flöge, a well-known fashion designer who became his muse, life companion, business partner, and lover. They met in 1890 when she was 18 years old, and their unconventional relationship influenced each other’s work. Although the exact nature of their relationship isn’t clear, it is said to have proved stronger than marriage and lasted for twenty-seven years. Some art historians believe that the female model pictured in Klimt’s painting Kiss was Emilie Flöge, although the hair color suggests it might be the red-haired Hilde Roth, one of Klimt’s other lovers.
Klimt’s final years were marked by a number of health issues. He suffered from a stroke in 1911, which left him partially paralyzed and unable to work with the same ability. He continued to paint, although a more somber and muted palette characterized his later works. Despite his health issues, Klimt’s work remained influential during this time, and his paintings were exhibited in several major cities throughout Europe, including Vienna, Berlin, and Paris. Klimt’s work was also featured in a major retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art in New York in 1935.
Klimt died in 1918. He was buried in Hietzing, Vienna, and numerous paintings by him were left unfinished after his death. Klimt’s influence continues to this day, with his works held in high regard by art historians and collectors alike. His works are among the most expensive paintings ever sold, with one of his paintings— the 1912 portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer II, which was previously owned by talk show host Oprah Winfrey — selling for over $150 million.
In 1941 the Nazis stole Klimt’s famous painting, Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I, and acting on behalf of the German state, the portrait was given to the Galerie Belvedere in Austria. However, in 2006, after a seven-year legal claim, an arbitration committee in Vienna agreed that the painting, and others, had been stolen from the family and that it should be returned to Adele’s husband’s niece Maria Altmann, who sold the painting for $135 million, which at the time was a record price for a painting.
In 2012 the city of Vienna had many special exhibitions commemorating the 150th anniversary of Klimt’s birth. Klimt’s paintings have inspired numerous artists, as well as many creative people working in different artistic mediums. For example, his paintings have been used as the basis for films and video games. In 2014 the science fiction role-playing game Transistor used Klimt’s work as a part of the game’s aesthetic, and the 2010 film Shutter Island recreates Klimt’s famous painting Kiss.
Klimt’s works are now located in various museums, galleries, and collections around the world. In the United States, there are collections at the Museum of Modern Art and Neue Gallery in New York City, and the J. Paul Getty Museum in Malibu.
In 2021 an artificial intelligence program was used to digitally reconstruct three lost paintings by Klimt. These three paintings were stolen by the Nazis and were likely destroyed in a 1945 fire. However, thanks to an advanced AI program, these remarkable paintings have been reconstructed in full color from old black-and-white photographs.
Some of the quotes that Klimt is known for include:
No part of life is so small and insignificant that it does not offer space for artistic aspirations.
Even the most humble object, provided it is perfectly executed, increases the beauty of our earth.
There is no self-portrait of me. I am not interested in my person as an object of painting.
Whoever wants to know something about me, they should look attentively at my pictures and there seek to recognize what I am and what I want.
Truth is like fire; to tell the truth means to glow and burn.
All art is erotic.
There is always hope, as long as the canvases are empty.