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Gustav Klimt

Austrian Painter

Gustav Klimt Photo

Born: July 14, 1862 - Baumgarten, Austro-Hungarian Empire

Died: February 6, 1918 - Vienna, Austro-Hungarian Empire

"All art is erotic."

Gustav Klimt Signature

Summary of Gustav Klimt

Austrian painter Gustav Klimt had many quirks. Once, his patron Friederika Maria Beer-Monti came to his studio to have her portrait painted, wearing a flashy polecat jacket designed by Klimt's friends at the Wiener Werkstätte. One would think Klimt would approve, but instead he had her turn it inside out to expose the red silk lining, and that was how he painted her. But Klimt, Vienna's most renowned artist of the era, had the prestige to do this. He is still remembered as one of the greatest decorative painters of the 20th century, while also producing one of the century's most significant bodies of erotic art. Initially successful in his endeavors for architectural commissions in an academic manner, his encounter with more modern trends in European art encouraged him to develop his own highly personal, eclectic, and often fantastic style. As the co-founder and first president of the Vienna Secession, Klimt also ensured that this movement would become widely influential. Klimt never courted scandal, but the highly controversial subject matter of his work in a traditionally very conservative artistic center dogged his career. Although he never married, Klimt remains romantically linked to several mistresses, with whom he is said to have fathered fourteen children, despite his extreme discretion about his personal life.

Key Ideas

Klimt first achieved acclaim as a decorative painter of historical scenes and figures through his many commissions to embellish public buildings. He continued to refine the decorative qualities so that the flattened, shimmering patterns of his nearly-abstract compositions, what is now known as his "Golden Phase" works, ultimately became the real subjects of his paintings.
Though a "fine art" painter, Klimt was an outstanding exponent of the equality between the fine and decorative arts. Having achieved some of his early success by painting within a greater architectural framework, he accepted many of his best-known commissions that were designed to complement other elements of a complete interior, thereby creating a Gesamtkunstwerk ("total work of art"). Later in his career, he worked in concert with artists of the Wiener Werkstätte, the Austrian design organization that aimed to improve the quality and visual appeal of everyday objects.
Klimt was one of the most important founders of the Vienna Secession in 1897, and served as its initial president, though he was chosen less for his completed oeuvre - relatively small at that point - than his youthful personality and willingness to challenge authority. His forcefulness and international fame as the most famous Art Nouveau painter contributed much to the Secession's early success - but also the movement's swift fall from prominence when he left it in 1905.
Although Klimt's art is now widely popular, it was neglected for much of the 20th century. His works for public spaces provoked a storm of opposition in his own day, facing charges of obscenity due to their erotic content, eventually causing Klimt to withdraw from government commissions altogether. His drawings are no less provocative and give full expression to his considerable sexual appetite.
Despite his fame and generosity in mentoring younger artists, including Egon Schiele and Oskar Kokoschka, Klimt produced virtually no direct followers and his work has consistently been regarded as highly personal and singular, even up to the present day. However, his paintings share many formal and thematic characteristics with the Expressionists and Surrealists of the interwar years, even though many of them may not have been familiar with Klimt's art.
Detail of <i>Woman with fan</i> (1917-18) by Gustav Klimt

Proudly acclaiming, ”There is no self-portrait of me,” Klimt found his means of expression not in projecting his own image, but in the erotic power of his sensual nudes, his femme fatales. He was, he said, more interested in “painting.. other people, above all women.”

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