'Whoever wants to know something about me,
must observe my paintings carefully
and try to see in them what I am.'
At the beginning of the twentieth century, the leading art movement in Europe was Art Nouveau. This style was unconventional, and was a deliberate attempt to create a new style in response to the academic ‘historicism’ of 19th century art.
The most notable Viennese painter and illustrator at this time was Gustav Klimt. He founded the Vienna Secession, and brought the Austrian Art Nouveau movement into the spotlight. However this is not all. Gustav Klimt brought the unique genre of erotic art to the world. His brightly coloured, sensual paintings of woman, which during his lifetime saw him being regarded as a decadent painter, have now been recognized as a valuable contribution to art.
Brought into the world on the 14th of July, 1862 in Baumgarten Austria, Klimt was the 2nd of 7 children. At the age of 14 it was suggested by a relative that Gustav should attend the Vienna School of Art. His talent for art was recognized almost immediately. During his time at the school he learnt a diversity of techniques from mosaics to fresco. His first creations were hyper-realistic, and inspired by Hans Makart.
Klimt worked on commercial projects for many years with his brother who also attended the art school. During this time he experimented with gold leaf in his works. This work won many prizes, and awards. It wasn’t until after the death of his brother in 1892 that Gustav began to focus on his personal art.
Gustav Klimt was a member of the Cooperative Society of Artists, from 1891. This was a very conservative organization. And membership was essential to every artist determined to make a living from art. However, in 1897 Klimt, and some other members decided that the society exerted too much of an influence on Austrian art. They broke away to form a group named the Association of Austrian Visual Artists. This group became widely known as the Austrian Secession.
In 1900 Klimt’s painting Philosophy was presented to the critics. They were disappointed and offended, labeling his work 'pornography', and 'excessively perverse'.
After that Klimt rebelled. He was not intimidated by the intense opposition he faced, and it showed. His painting goldfish increased general criticism. It is dominated by a naked female, showing her behind to the observer. There is a rumor that Klimt wanted to call this painting to my critics. There is no proof of this, however it’s not difficult to believe.
Klimt's most famous painting is probably The Kiss, which portrays a couple in an embrace. It has been compared to the Mona Lisa due to the fascination it evokes. The man clearly dominates the piece, and initiates the kiss. The woman seems to bear the kiss with resignation. This painting raised enthusiasm from the public and critics, unlike many of his other works.
Klimt’s 'golden age' began with Portrait of Fritza Riedler in 1906. His feminine portraits in gold belong among the most important representations of women in his work.
The works Klimt produced epitomize the encounter between the old art of the previous century and the new art of the time. One of his greatest contributions to the new era was, more than expressionism and surrealism, a very important theme: sexuality in art.
Klimt based his work on the theme of sexuality. He painted Eva, in every imaginable erotic position. Eva seduces with her body. She exposes herself as a femme fatale. He represents her in many paintings such as Judith, danae, and in innumerable young nameless women, in the virgin.
His work became popular, and before long he was a favorite women's portraitist. The openly erotic nature of his work clashed with the hypocritical repression of the day. So under the appearance of respectability, Klimt painted what interested him most: women's maddening eroticism. Fascinatingly he painted women nude, then covered them with clothes. This secret was revealed after his death when his last painting, The Bride was discovered.
Klimt demonstrated many times during his life, an amazing ability to change style. His style evolved to embrace his ever expanding idea of what was feminine.
He was however, not only an expert on painting women. He also painted some spectacular landscapes, which were inspired by the work of the impressionists. Klimt built enameled mosaics as he did with his portraits, mixing naturalism with modernism. Even though he was a studio painter, he did not draw sketches for his landscapes as he did for his portraits. For Klimt, landscapes were a chance for calm and meditation. This was something he very much enjoyed.
After his mothers death, Gustav Klimt began to muse over his own age and the closeness of death. He worked with this theme, and his painting death and life won first prize at an international exhibition in Rome.
Klimt never married, or committed to one woman. He did however, have numerous lovers. He was well known for his insatiable sexual appetite.
At the time artists models were looked upon with little respect, and were seen as prostitutes. And apparently many of the models working for Klimt were at one time or another his lover. Klimt's sensual works depict naked and often aroused women, and provide an insight into his feelings towards sexuality and women.
After Klimt's death at least 15 people came forward with claims that they were his natural children. It is unclear how many of these cases were legitimate. But it does shed light upon his widespread reputation as a womanizer.
On January 11 1918, Klimt suffered a stroke. This was something that he had feared his entire life. The stroke paralyzed the right side of his body, including his painting hand. Less than a month later he came down with pneumonia, as an epidemic swept through Vienna.
He died on February 6th, and was buried the next day. His grave site in Hietzing cemetery was donated by the state. Numerous newpapers marked his death with tributes. 'The amazing artist who not only revived Viennese painting, but also managed to put it on the international map.'
Although during his lifetime he was regarded simply as decadent. His works could be considered a typical representation of decay and decline. The erotic femme fatale images he produced are regarded as sociopolitical. Klimt contributed significantly to the liberation of woman, and the unearthing of the long lost power of erotica.