Gustav Klimt Life and Art Periods

"Whoever wants to know something about me - as an artist which alone is significant - they should look attentively at my pictures and there seek to recognize what I am and what I want."

GUSTAV KLIMT SYNOPSIS

Austrian painter Gustav Klimt was Vienna's most renowned advocator of Art Nouveau, or, as the style was known in Germany, Jugendstil ("youth style"). He is remembered as one of the greatest decorative painters of the twentieth century, and he also produced one of the century's most significant bodies of erotic art. Initially successful as a conventional academic painter, his encounter with more modern trends in European art encouraged him to develop his own eclectic and often fantastic style. His position as the co-founder and first president of the Vienna Secession also ensured that this style would become widely influential - though Klimt's direct influence on other artists was limited. He never courted scandal, but it dogged his career, and although he never married, he is said to have fathered fourteen children.

GUSTAV KLIMT KEY IDEAS

Klimt first achieved acclaim as a conventional academic painter, and received many commissions to paint public buildings. He later abandoned both the realism, and the approach to historical subject matter, that were characteristic of the 19th century. However, his interest in the decorative possibilities of painting could be seen as typical of the period's love of grandeur and elaboration. It might also be interpreted as an attempt to reconcile the natural and the artificial, a typical preoccupation of the 19th century, as modern technology began to transform the world beyond recognition.
While some of Klimt's contemporaries were vigorously opposed to decoration, Klimt was surely the period's most outstanding exponent. He strongly believed in the equality of fine and decorative art, and some of his work shows his ambition to create a Gesamtkunstwerk ("total work of art"), a union of the visual arts that might be created through ornament. He was also closely associated with the Wiener Werkstatte, the design studio which worked to improve the quality of everyday objects.
Klimt was one of the most influential exponents of Art Nouveau, the movement which spread throughout Europe in the late 19th century. His approach was inspired by the ethereal atmosphere of work by artists such as Aubrey Beardsley, and by some aspects of Impressionist technique; it was also determinedly eclectic, borrowing motifs from Byzantine, Greek and Egyptian art.
Although his art is now widely popular, it was neglected for much of the 20th century, and provoked opposition in his own day, facing charges of obscenity and objections to his lightly allusive approach to symbolism. His treatment of erotic themes was generally delicate and veiled in his paintings, but his drawings gave full expression to his considerable sexual appetite.
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GUSTAV KLIMT BIOGRAPHY

Childhood

Born to Ernst Klimt, a gold engraver and Bohemian immigrant, and Anna Finster, an aspiring but unsuccessful musical performer, Gustav Klimt was the second of seven children raised in the small suburb of Baumgarten, southwest of Vienna. The Klimt family was poor, as work was scarce in the early years of the Habsburg Empire, especially for immigrants, due in large part to the 1873 stock market crash.

Between 1862 and 1884, the Klimt family moved frequently, living at no fewer than five different addresses, always seeking cheaper housing. In addition to financial hardships, the family experienced much tragedy at home. In 1874 Klimt's younger sister, Anna, died at the age of five following a long illness. Not long after, his sister Klara suffered a mental breakdown after succumbing to religious fervor.

At an early age, Klimt and his two brothers Ernst and Georg displayed obvious artistic gifts as draftsmen, painters and craftsmen. Gustav, however, was singled out by his instructors as an exceptional draftsman while attending secondary school. In October 1876, when he was fourteen, a relative encouraged him to take the entrance examination for the Kunstgewerbeschule, the Viennese School of Arts and Crafts, and he passed with distinction. He later said that he had intended to become a drawing master and take a teaching position at a Burgerschule, the 19th-century Viennese equivalent of a basic public secondary school, which he had attended.

Klimt began his formal training in Vienna at a time known as the Ringstrasse Era, when the city was undergoing massive change. The center was constructed as one giant ring, and the bourgeois class was patronizing the arts as never before. Along with the newly constructed municipal railway, the arrival of electric street lamps, and city engineers rerouting the Danube River in order to avoid flooding, Vienna was entering its Golden Age of industry, research, and science. One thing Vienna did not yet have, however, was a revolutionary spirit towards the arts.

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Training and Early Success

The Kunstgewerbeschule's curriculum and teaching methods were fairly traditional for their time, something Klimt never questioned or challenged. Through an intensive training in drawing, he was charged with faithfully copying decorations, designs, and plaster casts of classic sculptures. Once he proved himself in this regard, only then was he permitted to draw figures from life.

Klimt impressed his instructors from the very beginning, soon joining a special class with a focus on painting. Here too, Klimt displayed masterful gifts for painting life figures and for working with a variety of tools, including the brush and soft pencil. The young artist's training also included close studies of the works of Titian, Rubens, and Hans Makart, the most famous Viennese historical painter of the Ringstrasse Era.

Klimt became a huge admirer of Makart, and particularly his technique, which employed dramatic effects of light and an evident love for theatricality and pageantry. At one point, while still a student, Klimt reportedly bribed one of Makart's servants to let him into the painter's studio so that Klimt might study the latest works in progress.

Shortly before leaving the Kunstgewerbeschule, Klimt's painting class was joined by his younger brother Ernst and a young painter named Franz Matsch, another gifted Viennese artist who specialized in large-scale decorative works. Klimt and Matsch both ended their studies in 1883, and together the two rented a large studio in Vienna. Despite this move and his early success, Klimt maintained residence with his parents and surviving sisters.

Klimt and Matsch soon became artists in high demand among the city's cultural elite, including prominent architects, society figures, and public officials. As early as 1880, Klimt and Matsch were recommended by their painting professor, Ferdinand Laufberger, to undertake a four-painting commission on behalf of a Viennese architectural firm specializing in theater design. In 1888, the Vienna City Council commissioned each artist to create a painting as a historical record of the city's old Burgtheater, which was slated for demolition. (Meanwhile, the new Burgtheater had already been constructed inside Vienna's Ringstrasse; Klimt and Matsch would soon be asked to decorate this theater as well.) Klimt's painting, The Auditorium of the Old Burgtheater (1888-89), employed a unique perspective by painting the auditorium from the vantage point of the stage rather than the auditorium itself.

Mature period

By the end of 1892, both Ernst junior and senior had died, the former quite suddenly from a bout of pericarditis. These deaths profoundly affected Klimt, who was now left financially responsible for his mother, sisters, brother's widow, and their infant daughter. Ernst's widow, Helene Floge, and her middle class family, had homes in both the city and country, where Klimt became a frequent guest. During these visits, Klimt began an intimate friendship with Helene's sister, Emilie Floge, which would last for the remainder of his life.

Gustav Klimt Biography Klimt's pace of work slowed following the deaths of his brother and father. The artist also began questioning the conventions of academic painting, which resulted in a rift between Klimt and his long-time partner Matsch. In 1893, the Artistic Advisory Committee of the Ministry of Education approached Matsch for a commission to decorate the ceiling of the newly built Great Hall of the University of Vienna. Klimt did eventually join the project (whether at the request of Matsch or the Ministry), but this collaboration would be the last between the two men. In the end, Klimt produced some thirty-nine ceiling paintings for the Great Hall, including Medicine (1900-07), Philosophy (1899-1907), and Jurisprudence (1897-98), all of which employed a highly decorative symbolism, marking a significant turn in Klimt's attitude toward painting and art in general. All three paintings were destroyed in 1945 by retreating German forces.

Much controversy arose over Klimt's University paintings, due in part to the nudity of some of the figures in Medicine, and in part to accusations that his use of symbolism was vague. In 1897 he renounced his membership of the Kunstlerhaus, Vienna's leading association of artists, of which he had been a member since 1891, (he complained of their monopoly of art sales and exhibitions). And this encouraged him to help found the Vienna Secession (also known as The Union of Austrian Artists), along with Josef Hoffmann, Koloman Moser, and Joseph Maria Olbrich, who designed and built the Secession Building in 1897. Klimt was made the Secession's founding president. Its founding principles were as follows: to provide young and unconventional artists with an outlet to show their work; to expose Vienna to the great works of foreign artists (namely the French Impressionists, which the Kunstlerhaus had failed to do); and to publish a periodical, eventually titled Sacred Spring.

The initial Secession exhibitions received wide acclaim from the public, and they elicited surprisingly little controversy, given that the Viennese had little to no exposure to modern art. In 1902 the Secessionists held their 14th Vienna Exhibition, a celebration of the composer Ludwig von Beethoven. For this exhibition Klimt painted his famous Beethoven Frieze (1902), a massive and complex work that, paradoxically, made no explicit reference to any of Beethoven's compositions. Instead, it was seen as a complex, lyrical, and highly ornate allegory of the artist as God.

Klimt produced some of his most celebrated paintings during his time with the Secession, which lasted until 1908. These works include the portraits Judith I (1901) and Adele Bloch-Bauer I (c.1907), Field of Poppies (1907), and The Kiss (1907-08), all of which comprised the artist's so-called "Golden Phase." Klimt's personal style, which richly combined elements of both the pre-modern and modern eras, had fully matured by this time. His use of gold and silver leaf recalled Byzantine mosaics; his application of repeated coils and whorls suggested both abstraction and Mycenaean ornamentation; and his portraits of women - such as Expectation (1905-09) - often combined a modern sensuality with the motifs of Oriental art and Japanese "pillar prints," of which Klimt was a devout collector.

Late Period and Death

In the last decade or so of his life, Klimt divided much of his time between his studio and garden in Heitzing, and the country home of the Floge family, where he and Emilie spent many days together. Although there was unquestionably a romantic bond between them, it is widely believed the two never gave in to physical desire. During these summers Klimt produced many of his stunning, yet largely underappreciated plein air landscape paintings, such as The Park (1909-10), often from the vantage point of a row boat or an open field. In addition to being a devoted family man, Klimt had two loves: painting and women, and his appetite for both was seemingly insatiable.

While Klimt did not alter his subject matter during his final years, his painterly style did undergo significant changes. Largely doing away with the use of gold and silver leaf, and ornamentation in general, the artist began using subtle mixtures of color, such as lilac, coral, salmon and yellow. Klimt also produced a staggering number of drawings and studies during this time, the majority of which were of female nudes, some so erotic that to this day they are seldom exhibited.

Gustav Klimt Photo Additionally, many of Klimt's later portraits of women have been praised for the artist's greater attention to character and a supposed new concern for likeness. These features are evident in his second portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer (1912), a portrait of the young Mada Primavesi (1913), and the strangely erotic The Friends (c.1916-17), which portrays what appears to be a lesbian couple - one naked and the other clothed - against a stylized backdrop of birds and flowers.

On January 11, 1918, Klimt suffered a stroke, which left him paralyzed on his right side. Bedridden and no longer able to paint or even sketch, Klimt evidently lost his will to live, and on February 6th he died from influenza. By the time of his death, abstract painting, not to mention Cubism, Futurism, Dada and Constructivism, had all captured the imaginations (and wallets) of Europeans across the continent. Gustav Klimt's body of work was by then considered part of a bygone era in painting, which still focused on human and natural forms rather than a deconstruction, or outright renunciation, of those very things.

GUSTAV KLIMT LEGACY

Gustav Klimt never married; never painted a single self-portrait; and never claimed to be revolutionizing art in any way. He seldom left his native Austria, and on the one occasion he visited Paris, he left thoroughly unimpressed. With the groundbreaking Secession, Klimt's primary aim was to call attention to underappreciated Viennese artists and in turn to call their attention to the much broader world of modern art beyond Austria's borders. In this sense Klimt is responsible for helping to transform Vienna into a leading center for culture and the arts at the turn of the century. But his influence on other artists and subsequent movements was quite limited. Much in the way Klimt revered Hans Makart but eventually deviated from that style, younger Viennese artists like Egon Schiele and Oskar Kokoschka revered Klimt early on, only to mature into more quasi-abstract and Expressionistic forms of painting.

While some critics and historians contend that Klimt's work should not be included in the canon of modern art, his oeuvre - particularly his paintings postdating 1900 - remains striking for its visual combinations of the old and the modern, the real and the abstract. Klimt produced his greatest work during a time of change and radical ideas, and these traits are clearly evident in his paintings.

Original content written by Justin Wolf
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GUSTAV KLIMT QUOTES

"All art is erotic."

"I can paint and draw. I believe this myself and a few other people say that they believe this too. But I'm not certain of whether it's true."

"Sometimes I miss out the morning's painting session and instead study my Japanese books in the open."

"There is nothing that special to see when looking at me. I'm a painter who paints day in day out, from morning till evening - figure pictures and landscapes, more rarely portraits."

Gustav Klimt

Gustav Klimt Influences

Interactive chart with Gustav Klimt's main influencers, and the people and ideas that the artist influenced in turn.

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Hans Makart
Hans Makart
Hans Makart was a nineteenth-century Viennese historical painter, and one of the most celebrated Austrian artists of the city's Ringstrasse Era. Makart's grand paintings, indicative of the Realism and Naturalism movements, were praised for their theatricality, pageantry and realistic portrayals of light and shadow.

Modern Art Information Hans Makart
Margaret MacDonald
Margaret MacDonald
Margaret MacDonald Mackintosh was a nineteenth and twentieth-century Scottish Art Nouveau painter. In 1900 MacDonald and her husband represented Scotland in the Vienna Secession exhibition, an event which brought their art to the attention of Gustav Klimt and Josef Hoffmann, and forever changed the history of Art Nouveau.

Modern Art Information Margaret MacDonald
Max Klinger
Max Klinger
Max Klinger was a nineteenth and twentieth-century German Symbolist painter, sculptor, engraver and printmaker. Among Klinger's most famous works as the marble stature of Ludwig van Beethoven, a central piece at the 1902 Vienna Secession, which was dedicated to the late composer.

Modern Art Information Max Klinger
Adolf Loos
Adolf Loos
Adolf Loos was a nineteenth and twentieth-century Czech-born Austrian architect, and one of the key promoters and designers of turn-of-the-century modern European architecture. Loos' designs represented a unique blend of classical Baroque-style ornamentation and modern Art Nouveau aesthetics.

Modern Art Information Adolf Loos
Franz Matsch
Franz Matsch
Franz Matsch was a Viennese painter and sculptor, and for a time, was one of Gustav Klimt's closest collaborators during turn-of-the-century Austria. Along with the Klimt brothers Gustav and Ernst, Matsch was one of the leading ceiling painters and architectural decorators working in and around Vienna's Ringstrasse.

Modern Art Information Franz Matsch
Emilie Floge
Emilie Floge
Emilie Floge was the sister of Helene Floge, who was Ernst Klimt's widow. Upon Ernst's death, his brother Gustav Klimt befriended Emilie. Emilie and Gustav enjoyed a close friendship that lasted the rest of their days, and although many believe their relationship was romantic, it's widely accepted that they were never physically involved. Klimt's portrait Emile Floge (1902), is among the artist's most famous portraits.

Modern Art Information Emilie Floge
Josef Hoffmann
Josef Hoffmann
Josef Hoffmann was an Austrian architect, designer, and one of the founders of Weiner Werkstatte, a production company of visual artists. Arguably Hoffmann's most famous work was his Art Deco Palais Stoclet, a private home in Brussels, for which Gustav Klimt provided some of the wall decorations.

Modern Art Information Josef Hoffmann
Post-Impressionism
Post-Impressionism
Post-Impressionism refers to a number of styles that emerged in reaction to Impressionism in the 1880s. The movement encompassed Symbolism and Neo-Impressionism before ceding to Fauvism around 1905. Its artists turned away from effects of light and atmosphere to explore new avenues such as color theory and personal feeling, often using colors and forms in intense and expressive ways.
TheArtStory - Modern Art GuideModern Art Information Post-Impressionism
Pointillism
Pointillism
Pointillism is a mode of art-making, first developed in 1880s France, in which all of the paint is applied to the surface as tiny points or daubs of color. Based on the laws of color theory, pointillism relies on the viewer's eye to mix the disparate dots into the lines, shapes, shadings, and color ranges of the full scene.

Modern Art Information Pointillism
Japonisme
Japonisme
Japonisme describes the influence of Japanese art, especially woodblock prints, on French artists in the second half of the nineteenth century. Many Post-Impressionists were influenced by the flat blocks of color, the emphasis on design, and the simple, everyday subject matter.

Modern Art Information Japonisme
Neo-Baroque
Neo-Baroque
The Neo-Baroque style was the nineteenth-century revival of the architectural style which dominated the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Characteristics of the style include decorative elements of the Rococo and Neoclassical movements. A key example of Neo-Baroque architecture was Vienna's new Burgtheater, which Gustav Klimt and Franz Matsch helped decorate in the early 1880s.

Modern Art Information Neo-Baroque
Naturalism
Naturalism
As a distinct artistic medium, Naturalism began as far back as the Florentine School, with artists such as Botticelli and Michelangelo, and still survives to the present day. The term is meant to be self-explanatory, referring to the artist's depiction of realistic objects and settings, and their naturalistic movement. A common theme in naturalist paintings is nature's predominance over humankind.

Modern Art Information Naturalism
Egon Schiele
Egon Schiele
Egon Schiele was an Austrian Art Nouveau painter. Schiele was initially taken under the wing of Gustav Klimt, but soon discovered a painterly style that was solidly expressionistic in form. While his style was reminiscent of Van Gogh, Klimt, Munch and others, Schiele shaped the female form in a uniquely non-representational manner, often twisting the body and face, making him an early proponent of European Expressionism.
TheArtStory - Modern Art GuideModern Art Information Egon Schiele
Oskar Kokoschka
Oskar Kokoschka
Oskar Kokoschka was an Austrian Expressionist painter, poet and playwright. His work is intertwined with the stormy and dramatic life of affairs, fleeing the Nazis and eventually settling in Switzerland as a master of German Expressionism.

Modern Art Information Oskar Kokoschka
Theo van Doesburg
Theo van Doesburg
Theo van Doesburg was a Dutch artist, who together with Piet Mondrian established Neo-Plasticism, otherwise known as the De Stijl school of painting. Van Doesburg's most famous work experimented with geometric abstraction and archetypal forms. He was also a prominent architect and writer.

Modern Art Information Theo van Doesburg
Joseph Maria Olbrich
Joseph Maria Olbrich
Joseph Maria Olbrich was an Austrian architect and one of the founders of the Vienna Secession. In 1897 Olbrich designed and built Vienna's Secession Building, which housed all of the group's exhibitions. In his later years Olbrich branched out and began designing furniture, pottery and musical instruments.

Modern Art Information Joseph Maria Olbrich
Koloman Moser
Koloman Moser
Koloman Moser was an Austrian painter, designer graphic artist, and a co-founder of both the Vienna Secession and Weiner Werkstatte. In addition to designing many book covers and the magazine for the Secession, Moser was an incredibly versatile designer who worked with jewelry, tapestries, blown and stained glass, ceramics and much more.

Modern Art Information Koloman Moser
Otto Wagner
Otto Wagner
Otto Wagner was an Austrian architect and urban planner. His appraoch is considered part of the Art Nouveau, or Jugendstil, style of architecture, characterized by clean lines and ornate decoration. In 1897 Wagner became one of the founding members of the Vienna Secession.

Modern Art Information Otto Wagner
Symbolism
Symbolism
Symbolism is an artistic and literary movement that first emerged in France in the 1880s. In the visual arts it is often considered part of Post-Impressionism. It is characterized by an emphasis on the mystical, romantic and expressive, and often by the use of symbolic figures.
TheArtStory - Modern Art GuideModern Art Information Symbolism
Art Nouveau
Art Nouveau
Art Nouveau was a movement that swept through the decorative arts and architecture in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Generating enthusiasts throughout Europe, it was aimed at modernizing design and escaping the eclectic historical styles that had previously been popular. It drew inspiration from both organic and geometric forms, evolving elegant designs that united flowing, natural forms with more angular contours.
TheArtStory - Modern Art GuideModern Art Information Art Nouveau
Vienna Secession
Vienna Secession
The Vienna Secession (also known as the Union of Austrian Artists) was a group of Austrian painters, sculptors and architects, who in 1897 resigned from the Association of Austrian Artists, and founded a group with the mission of bringing modern European art to a culturally-insulated Austria, and exposing their countrymen to the work of great Europeans, such as the French Impressionists. Among the Secession's founding members were Gustav Klimt, Koloman Moser, Josef Hoffmann and Joseph Maria Olbrich.

Modern Art Information Vienna Secession
Aubrey Beardsley
Aubrey Beardsley
Aubrey Beardsley was a nineteenth-century English illustrator and author. Beardsley's preferred medium was black ink, which he used to create highly erotic, grotesque and decadant drawings, much in the style of Japanese woodcuts. Beardsley's work was part of the Aesthetic movement, and was highly influential to the subsequent Art Nouveau movement of the early twentieth century.

Modern Art Information Aubrey Beardsley
Impressionism
Impressionism
A movement in painting that first surfaced in France in the 1860s, it sought new ways to describe effects of light and movement, often using rich colors. The Impressionists were drawn to modern life and often painted the city, but they also captured landscapes and scenes of middle-class leisure-taking in the suburbs.
TheArtStory - Modern Art GuideModern Art Information Impressionism
Titian
Titian
Titian was the leading painter of the Venetian school in sixteenth century Italy, spanning a more than sixty-year career. His wide range of subject matter and deep interest in color has heavily influenced further developments in Western art.

Modern Art Information Titian
Peter Paul Rubens
Peter Paul Rubens
Peter Paul Rubens was a seventeenth-century Baroque artist who painted richly-toned allegories, history cycles, and religious scenes. His works are often populated by fleshy female nudes and figures in dramatic, twisting postures.

Modern Art Information Peter Paul Rubens
Cubism
Cubism
Cubism was developed by Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque between 1907-1911, and it continued to be highly influential long after its decline. This classic phase has two stages: 'Analytic', in which forms seem to be 'analyzed' and fragmented; and 'Synthetic', in which pre-existing materials such as newspaper and wood veneer are collaged to the surface of the canvas.
TheArtStory - Modern Art GuideModern Art Information Cubism
Futurism
Futurism
Futurism was the most influential Italian avant-garde movement of the twentieth century. Dedicated to the modern age, it celebrated speed, movement, machinery and violence. At first influenced by Neo-Impressionism, and later by Cubism, some of its members were also drawn to mass culture and nontraditional forms of art.
TheArtStory - Modern Art GuideModern Art Information Futurism
Dada
Dada
Dada was an artistic and literary movement that emerged in 1916. It arose in reaction to World War I, and the nationalism and rationalism that many thought had led to the War. Influenced by several avant-gardes - Cubism, Futurism, Constructivism, and Expressionism - its output was wildly diverse, ranging from performance art to poetry, photography, sculpture, painting and collage. Emerging first in Zurich, it spread to cities including Berlin, Hanover, Paris, New York and Cologne.
TheArtStory - Modern Art GuideModern Art Information Dada
Constructivism
Constructivism
Russian Constructivism emerged with the Revolution of 1917 and sought a new approach to making objects, one which abolished the traditional concern with composition and replaced it with 'construction,' which called for a new attention to the technical character of materials. It was hoped that these inquiries would yield ideas for mass production. The movement was an important influence on geometric abstraction.
TheArtStory - Modern Art GuideModern Art Information Constructivism
The Auditorium of the Old Burgtheater
The Auditorium of the Old Burgtheater

Title: The Auditorium of the Old Burgtheater (1888-89)

Artwork Description & Analysis: Unlike Franz Matsch's counterpart to this picture, which shows the stage of the Burgtheater from the auditorium, Klimt's treatment does the exact opposite - a strange choice, since conventional approaches to this subject matter depict actors performing on stage. It is typical of the academic style of Klimt's early work, and of the influence on him of Hans Makart. The minute detail of Klimt's painting, which includes over 150 tiny individual portraits, is stunning in its almost photographic precision. Among the audience members are Austria's Prime Minister, Vienna's Mayor, the composer Brahms, and the Emperor's mistress, Katherina Schratt, an actress. When word got out about this commission, members of the Viennese public begged Klimt to insert their portraits, however small, into the picture.


Gouache on paper - The Historical Museum of Vienna

Medicine
Medicine

Title: Medicine (1900-1907)

Artwork Description & Analysis: This detail from Klimt's Medicine shows the figure of Hygeia, the mythological daughter of the god of medicine. Klimt was loyal to traditional depictions of the goddess, providing her with a snake and the cup of Lethe. However, above Hygeia, Klimt painted a large column of light, and placed on either side several nude figures and, most notably, a skeleton to symbolize Death. For this Klimt received much criticism from physicians and university officials who were offended by what they saw as his lurid, almost pornographic depiction, of the human form, and for suggesting that the healing arts were unable to prevent death. Klimt's University paintings, of which Medicine was a part, were some of his first works to explore the female form in vivid detail.


Oil on canvas - Destroyed in 1945 at Schloss Immendorf, a castle in lower Austria

The Beethoven Frieze
The Beethoven Frieze

Title: The Beethoven Frieze (1902)

Artwork Description & Analysis: This small detail shows perhaps the most famous section of The Beethoven Frieze (the entire frieze measured 220" x 2400"). It was originally produced for a group exhibition at the Vienna Secession in 1902, which was devoted to sculptor Max Klinger's Beethoven Monument. Although the frieze was later removed from the building, it has since been restored to its original position. With its apparent lack of any direct reference to Beethoven, the artist's symbolism, much like in his University paintings, is entirely invented and evidently quite personal. Klimt's source of imagery remains a mystery, but when viewed as a whole, the frieze takes on the qualities of a musical analogy, with each section of the frieze suggesting a symphonic movement. The original catalogue for the 1902 Secession exhibition indicated that the frieze follows the story of a hero who begins happy, must fight dark forces in order to secure his happiness, and in the end experiences salvation.


Casein paint on stucco, inlaid with various materials - The Secession Building, Vienna

Adele Bloch-Bauer I
Adele Bloch-Bauer I

Title: Adele Bloch-Bauer I (c.1907)

Artwork Description & Analysis: Of all the many women Klimt painted from life, Adele Bloch-Bauer, the wife of a Viennese banker (and Klimt's lover), was the only woman to sit for him more than once. This, the first of the two portraits, is considered by many to be his finest work. The sitter is adorned with precious materials and ancient artifacts, suggesting her wealth and power; but her stare, and her grasping hands, also suggest that she is fragile (the disfigured finger on her right hand is concealed). Despite these features, Klimt was largely unconcerned at this time with depicting his sitter's character, and even less so with providing location and context, omissions that were common in all of Klimt's earlier portraits. Klimt's biographer, Frank Whitford, has described the picture as "the most elaborate example of the tyranny of the decorative" in the artist's work. Klimt gives over almost every space on the canvas to ornament, and leaves only the woman's hands and upper body to describe her appearance. Like many artists around this period who were experimenting with abstraction, Klimt was faced with the possibility of crossing into pure form, and leaving depicted objects behind. That this picture marked an important turning point, and that he chose to turn back from this extreme, is indicated by his second portrait of Bloch-Bauer, produced in 1912, in which her body stands out much more substantially against the background.


Oil, gold and silver leaf on canvas - Neue Galerie, New York

The Kiss
The Kiss

Title: The Kiss (1907-08)

Artwork Description & Analysis: This is perhaps Klimt's most popular and renowned celebration of sexual love. In The Kiss, the woman is being absorbed by the man, while both figures are engulfed by the body of gold in which they lie. The background suggests a night sky, while the bodies teeter at the edge of a flowery meadow, as if they are in danger of cascading into the darkness. Much like Adele Bloch-Bauer I, and other paintings of its ilk, representational forms only barely emerge from a highly ornate but ultimately abstract form, in this case the golden shroud, beautifully juxtaposed against the brown and green. Indeed, Klimt's biographer Frank Whitford has pointed out that earlier studies for the picture show the man with a beard, suggesting that he might be meant to represent the artist himself, while the woman represents Block-Bauer. The Kiss is considered the masterpiece of the artist's "Golden Period," and although the decoration is particularly elaborate, Klimt used it for symbolic purposes, with rectangular forms evoking masculinity, while circular forms evoke the feminine.


Oil, gold and silver leaf on canvas - Osterreichische Galerie Belvedere, Vienna

The Park
The Park

Title: The Park (1909-10)

Artwork Description & Analysis: Pointillism clearly influenced this painting, even though, unlike Seurat, Klimt never expressed an interest in utilizing optics in his work. Nine-tenths of The Park is a solid mass of foliage, thus if not for the tree trunks and strips of grass at the bottom, this composition would be wholly abstract. The painting's naturalistic elements are offset by Klimt's decorative mosaic of blue, green and yellow dots, which are rendered representational only with the aid of the work's lower section. This is a visually demanding work, and possibly one of Klimt's finest plein air paintings (although many of his landscapes were finished in the studio, all were begun in the open air). He painted these throughout his career, but to this day they are celebrated far less than his portraits.


Oil on canvas - The Museum of Modern Art, New York

The Auditorium of the Old Burgtheater

The Auditorium of the Old Burgtheater, 1888-89, The Historical Museum of Vienna
Gouache on paper

Unlike Franz Matsch's counterpart to this picture, which shows the stage of the Burgtheater from the auditorium, Klimt's treatment does the exact opposite - a strange choice, since conventional approaches to this subject matter depict actors performing on stage. It is typical of the academic style of Klimt's early work, and of the influence on him of Hans Makart. The minute detail of Klimt's painting, which includes over 150 tiny individual portraits, is stunning in its almost photographic precision. Among the audience members are Austria's Prime Minister, Vienna's Mayor, the composer Brahms, and the Emperor's mistress, Katherina Schratt, an actress. When word got out about this commission, members of the Viennese public begged Klimt to insert their portraits, however small, into the picture.
Medicine

Medicine, 1900-1907, Destroyed in 1945 at Schloss Immendorf, a castle in lower Austria
Oil on canvas

This detail from Klimt's Medicine shows the figure of Hygeia, the mythological daughter of the god of medicine. Klimt was loyal to traditional depictions of the goddess, providing her with a snake and the cup of Lethe. However, above Hygeia, Klimt painted a large column of light, and placed on either side several nude figures and, most notably, a skeleton to symbolize Death. For this Klimt received much criticism from physicians and university officials who were offended by what they saw as his lurid, almost pornographic depiction, of the human form, and for suggesting that the healing arts were unable to prevent death. Klimt's University paintings, of which Medicine was a part, were some of his first works to explore the female form in vivid detail.
The Beethoven Frieze

The Beethoven Frieze, 1902, The Secession Building, Vienna
Casein paint on stucco, inlaid with various materials

This small detail shows perhaps the most famous section of The Beethoven Frieze (the entire frieze measured 220" x 2400"). It was originally produced for a group exhibition at the Vienna Secession in 1902, which was devoted to sculptor Max Klinger's Beethoven Monument. Although the frieze was later removed from the building, it has since been restored to its original position. With its apparent lack of any direct reference to Beethoven, the artist's symbolism, much like in his University paintings, is entirely invented and evidently quite personal. Klimt's source of imagery remains a mystery, but when viewed as a whole, the frieze takes on the qualities of a musical analogy, with each section of the frieze suggesting a symphonic movement. The original catalogue for the 1902 Secession exhibition indicated that the frieze follows the story of a hero who begins happy, must fight dark forces in order to secure his happiness, and in the end experiences salvation.
Adele Bloch-Bauer I

Adele Bloch-Bauer I, c.1907, Neue Galerie, New York
Oil, gold and silver leaf on canvas

Of all the many women Klimt painted from life, Adele Bloch-Bauer, the wife of a Viennese banker (and Klimt's lover), was the only woman to sit for him more than once. This, the first of the two portraits, is considered by many to be his finest work. The sitter is adorned with precious materials and ancient artifacts, suggesting her wealth and power; but her stare, and her grasping hands, also suggest that she is fragile (the disfigured finger on her right hand is concealed). Despite these features, Klimt was largely unconcerned at this time with depicting his sitter's character, and even less so with providing location and context, omissions that were common in all of Klimt's earlier portraits. Klimt's biographer, Frank Whitford, has described the picture as "the most elaborate example of the tyranny of the decorative" in the artist's work. Klimt gives over almost every space on the canvas to ornament, and leaves only the woman's hands and upper body to describe her appearance. Like many artists around this period who were experimenting with abstraction, Klimt was faced with the possibility of crossing into pure form, and leaving depicted objects behind. That this picture marked an important turning point, and that he chose to turn back from this extreme, is indicated by his second portrait of Bloch-Bauer, produced in 1912, in which her body stands out much more substantially against the background.
The Kiss

The Kiss, 1907-08, Osterreichische Galerie Belvedere, Vienna
Oil, gold and silver leaf on canvas

This is perhaps Klimt's most popular and renowned celebration of sexual love. In The Kiss, the woman is being absorbed by the man, while both figures are engulfed by the body of gold in which they lie. The background suggests a night sky, while the bodies teeter at the edge of a flowery meadow, as if they are in danger of cascading into the darkness. Much like Adele Bloch-Bauer I, and other paintings of its ilk, representational forms only barely emerge from a highly ornate but ultimately abstract form, in this case the golden shroud, beautifully juxtaposed against the brown and green. Indeed, Klimt's biographer Frank Whitford has pointed out that earlier studies for the picture show the man with a beard, suggesting that he might be meant to represent the artist himself, while the woman represents Block-Bauer. The Kiss is considered the masterpiece of the artist's "Golden Period," and although the decoration is particularly elaborate, Klimt used it for symbolic purposes, with rectangular forms evoking masculinity, while circular forms evoke the feminine.
The Park

The Park, 1909-10, The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Oil on canvas

Pointillism clearly influenced this painting, even though, unlike Seurat, Klimt never expressed an interest in utilizing optics in his work. Nine-tenths of The Park is a solid mass of foliage, thus if not for the tree trunks and strips of grass at the bottom, this composition would be wholly abstract. The painting's naturalistic elements are offset by Klimt's decorative mosaic of blue, green and yellow dots, which are rendered representational only with the aid of the work's lower section. This is a visually demanding work, and possibly one of Klimt's finest plein air paintings (although many of his landscapes were finished in the studio, all were begun in the open air). He painted these throughout his career, but to this day they are celebrated far less than his portraits.
Bibliography
The books and articles below constitute a bibliography of the sources used in the writing this page. These also suggests some accessible resources for further research, especially ones that can be found and purchased via the internet.