Who was Gustav Klimt?

The Austrian painter and draughtsman was one of the main representatives of Viennese Art Nouveau painting. During his lifetime he was one of the most controversial but also most popular artists. At the end of the 19th century Gustav Klimt developed a new style with a flat ornamental decorative character. The artist combined natural details with abstract, coloured and mosaic-like surface patterns. Klimt’s “golden period” began in 1906.

  • During this period Klimt realised a language of expression that followed early Christian mosaics and icons.
  • In 1897 he was one of the co-founders of the Viennese artist group “Secession”.
  • In addition to his approximately 2,000 drawings, Gustav Klimt created portraits of women with erotic charisma and ceiling paintings.
  • Gustav Klimt was born on 14 July 1862 in Baumgarten near Vienna as the son of the chaser Ernst Klimt and his wife Anna, née Finster.

From 1876 to 1883 Gustav Klimt studied at the Kunstgewerbeschule in Vienna. A scholarship made this education possible for him. His brother attended the same school. Together and with Franz Matsch they realised commissioned works between 1880 and 1883 and painted ceiling and theatre decorations in Vienna, Karlsbad and Reichenberg. In 1883 the three opened a studio in Vienna and accepted commissions. Thus they worked at the National Theatre in Bucharest, or they designed the ceilings of the Hermes Villa of the Austrian Empress Elisabeth. 1886 followed a commission at the Vienna Burgtheater. Two years later the works were completed and the artists were honoured by Emperor Franz Joseph I with the Golden Cross of Merit for Art.

During this time Klimt turned to monumental painting. In 1889 Gustav Klimt undertook a trip to Europe, including Trieste, Venice and Munich. Between 1890 and 1900 in particular, the artist was in search of his individual expressiveness. He increasingly broke away from the academic style. In 1891 he joined the “Genossenschaft bildender Künstler Wiens”. Thus he moved between the fronts of tradition-conscious followers and the avant-garde. During this time he made the acquaintance of Emilie Flöge. A friendship developed out of this connection. Gustav Klimt is the father of several illegitimate children whom he had with his models.

His brother died in 1892

Picture from art TRADE

Klimt broke the studio connection to Franz Matsch. Two years later they were commissioned to design the ceiling decoration of the “Aula Magna” at the University of Vienna. In 1897 Klimt was one of the co-founders of the Viennese artist group “Secession”. He was also their first president. The objectives of the group were the independence of art and artists, above all, from state requirements. The magazine “Ver Sacrum” became the medium of movement in which the “Secessions” artists presented their works and their goals. In the years that followed, Klimmt was strongly committed to the artists’ association. Between 1898 and 1900 there was a change in the artist’s painting technique.

Klimt turned to an expressionist style with a flat-ornamental character. In 1900 the work “Philosophy”, one of three ceiling paintings at the University of Vienna, was awarded the gold medal. Nevertheless, the paintings met with internal criticism from professors, who judged them to be ugly and pornographic. In 1902 Klimt created the “Beethoven Frieze” for Max Klinger’s “Beethoven Statue”. Klimt’s work provoked polemical reactions. In the same year he met the important French sculptor Auguste Rodin, who was impressed by Klimt’s “Beethovenfries”. The following year, the artist travelled to Ravenna, Venice and Florence. The discussion between naturalists and stylists in the “Secession” led to the division of the group in 1905.

Klimt and other artists then resigned

The contrary reactions to his faculty paintings at the University of Vienna increased. As a consequence Klimt held back the works and paid back the fee. The following year Klimt’s “golden period” began. The painting with the title “Fritza Riedler” was created and made the beginning. This phase culminated in the painting “The Kiss”. During this period Klimmt realized a language of expression that followed early Christian mosaics and icons. The artist got his inspiration from Italy. During this period numerous portraits of women with an erotic character were created, documenting Klimt’s devotion to the female sex. 1907 saw the first contact with the Austrian painter and draughtsman Egon Schiele.

The expressionist artist was decisively inspired by Klimt’s work. In 1908 and 1909 Klimt organized the “Kunstschau”. In 1911 the artist was awarded first prize for his painting “Death and Life” at the International Art Exhibition in Rome. On the other hand, Klimt’s style was also often in the light of criticism. He brought his paintings into harmony with the compositions of Gustav Mahler and the psychoanalytical theses of Sigmund Freud. Together with Egon Schiele, Oskar Kokoschka and Anton Faistauer, Klimt took part in the exhibition of the “Bund Österreichischer Künstler”, organized by the Berlin “Secession”. In 1917 Gustav Klimt became an honorary member of the Academies of Fine Arts in Vienna and Munich.

Gustav Klimt died on 6 February 1918 in Vienna.