Art Nouveau: Gustav Klimt

Gustav Klimt — one of the most famous Austrian artists of the late XIX- early XX centuries, graphic artist, illustrator, painter, one of the founders of the Viennese Jugendstil.

Klimt was born in Vienna in the family of an artist-engraver. He studied at the Vienna School of Decorative Arts and devoted all his life to painting. Klimt once said about himself: «I am a painter who paints day after day from morning till night. Those, who want to know something about me, should carefully study my paintings. »

Little is known about Klimt’s personal life: he never married, and after his father’s and brother’s death, he lived with his mother and became a guardian of his niece. He had numerous love affairs, but all his life he was very close to the sister of the deceased brother’s wife, Emilie Flöge. She was a fashion designer and a businesswoman, and established her own fashion salon in Vienna. The summer months Klimt spent with her in a villa on the lake Altersee, where he painted his landscapes, he wrote numerous letters to her, and she seems to have been his life companion.

One of the main themes in Klimt’s paintings is a woman, a woman’s body, nudity and erotic scenes. His famous painting «The Kiss» is recognized as a world masterpiece. The figures in the picture are disguised by decorative clothing, and only the pose and sensual lines show the passion. This work was painted in the artist’s «golden age», named so because of the prevalence of the golden colour in the palette of his works. The artist was inspired by the golden church mosaics of Venice and began to experiment with different techniques — in addition to oil painting he used the gilding.

The Kiss, 1907–08, oil on canvas, Belveder, Vienna.

Klimt painted women in different roles ranging from femmes fatales and passionate lovers to portraits, which were mainly made to order. These are portraits of wealthy noble ladies, including his favorite model — Adele Bloch-Bauer. The portrait shows the original style of the artist, which is typical for the majority of his works — the real human figures are hidden by decorative elements. These decorative elements come from his early frescoes and decoration of Viennese buildings. Among the most well known of these are the decor of the «Burgtheater» and the Kunsthistorisches Museum.

Another frequently recurring subject in Klimt’s paintings is the theme of the stages of human life — birth, pregnancy, old age, death, and the struggle of good and evil, with their inextricable connection.

The most famous of his monumental works is the «Beethoven Frieze» — a series of paintings, executed in the form of an architectural frieze for an exhibition devoted to the composer. In these paintings we see the Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony illustrated with painting symbols and images through the length of 34 meter painting. Another remarkable work of the Viennese Art Nouveau is the mosaic mural decorating the private dining room of the Stoclet Palais in Brussels, made of marble, majolica, ceramics, enamels and gold inclusions.

In addition to large-scale monumental paintings, as well as allegorical and mythological paintings, graphic works and book illustrations, Klimt painted landscapes. Critics say landscape painting is the best part of his work, offering a mix of impressionism and symbolism. Klimt’s landscapes, like his images of human figures, also contain the same characteristic decorative design elements.

In his late work Klimt’s style changes — his paintings contain less ornamental elements and gold. The Portrait of Adele, written at that time, is full of various colours, and his painting «Death and Life», depicting a death dance, is performed on a blue background.

Today Klimt is considered one of the most expensive artists in the world. In 2006 the portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer was sold for a record $ 135 million.

Adele Bloch-Bauer I, 1907, sold for a record $135 mln in 2006, Neue Galerie, New York.

Three Ages of Woman, 1905, Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Moderna, Rome.

A section of the Beethoven Frieze, Secession Building, Vienna.

Death and Life, 1916, oil on canvas, Leopold Museum, Vienna.