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Klimt, Gustav

Category: Artist and sculptor

Gustav Klimt (1862 – 1918) was an Austrian symbolist painter and one of the most prominent members of the Vienna Secession movement.  If you read the rather dry academic descriptions of his work they will tell you that he was well known for his paintings, murals, sketches, and other 'art objects'.  What all these descriptions don't tell you, however, is just how sensuous and erotic his work is, it positively oozes sensuality. 

Klimt's primary subject was women and more particularly nude women, although he did paint a few portraits of clothed women.  The colours are rich and jewel like, the pose informal, love and affection for women sings from every canvas.  Klimt loved women.  He also produced a large number of extremely explicit drawings of women masturbating or women together, often nude, in embrace, which are also rarely mentioned by art critics.

About the closest they ever come to describing the real Klimt is to call his work 'frank eroticism', which is comical.

In the early 1890s, Klimt met Emilie Louise Flöge, who became his companion until the end of his life.

So he had a companion,  but he also had numerous lovers.   Klimt fathered at least 14 children.  As Wikipedia says “ Though very active sexually, he kept his affairs discreet and he avoided personal scandal.

Klimt loved women.  Really loved women, it is there in every painting, every pose. And he loved children too, not sexually of course, pure love.  His paintings of little children zing with affection for them.

Gustav Klimt was born in an artistic family of three boys and four girls.  His father, Ernst  was a gold engraver.  I have added this because it is probably his father's influence that inspired his later works in which he extensively used gold leaf.  Klimt's 'Golden Phase' was marked by success. Many of his paintings from this period used gold leaf; Pallas Athene (1898) and Judith I (1901),  Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I (1907) and The Kiss (1907–08). 

Klimt lived in poverty while attending the Vienna School of Arts and Crafts (Kunstgewerbeschule), where he studied architectural painting until 1883.   He began his professional career painting interior murals and ceilings in large public buildings.

In 1894, Klimt was commissioned to create three paintings to decorate the ceiling of the Great Hall in the University of Vienna. Not completed until the turn of the century, his three paintings, Philosophy, Medicine and Jurisprudence were criticized for their radical themes and material, which were called "pornographic".

Klimt had transformed traditional allegory and symbolism into a new language which was more overtly sexual. The public outcry came from all quarters—political, aesthetic, and religious. As a result, they were not displayed on the ceiling of the Great Hall. This would be the last public commission accepted by the artist. All three paintings were destroyed by retreating SS forces in May 1945”.

His Nuda Veritas (1899) was a further attempt to shake up the establishment. The completely  naked and very life like red-headed woman holds a mirror, while above it is a quotation by Schiller in stylized lettering, "If you cannot please everyone with your deeds and your art, please a few. To please many is bad."

 In 1904, he collaborated with other artists on the lavish Palais Stoclet, the home of a wealthy Belgian industrialist, which was one of the grandest monuments of the Art Nouveau age. Klimt's contributions to the dining room, including both Fulfillment and Expectation, were some of his finest decorative work, and as he publicly stated, "probably the ultimate stage of my development of ornament."  The work is hugely symbolic – trees of life, cones, full of symbolism.

Klimt's "Beethoven Frieze" (in Vienna's Secession Hall) - 1902

Between 1907 and 1909, Klimt painted five canvases of society women wrapped in fur.

As he worked and relaxed in his home, Klimt normally wore sandals and a long robe with no undergarments. “His simple life was somewhat cloistered, devoted to his art and family and little else “.  And his models of course.  As Wikipedia says “His painting method was very deliberate and painstaking at times and he required lengthy sittings by his subjects.

Mmmm quite.

Klimt once wrote "I have never painted a self-portrait. I am less interested in myself as a subject for a painting than I am in other people, above all women... There is nothing special about me. I am a painter who paints day after day from morning to night... Who ever wants to know something about me... ought to look carefully at my pictures."

In 1915 his mother Anna died. Klimt died three years later in Vienna on February 6, 1918, aged only 56,  having suffered a stroke and pneumonia due to the influenza epidemic of that year.

Klimt's paintings have brought some of the highest prices recorded for individual works of art.  In 2006, the 1907 portrait, Adele Bloch-Bauer I, was purchased for the Neue Galerie New York by Ronald Lauder for a reported US $135 million.  


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