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Gustav Klimt: Love, Art, and Women

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Many artists have endeavoured to express the beauty of romance. Gustav Klimt masterfully captures the power of romantic love in his famous painting “The Kiss.” Surrounded by a golden glow of love, the kiss of two figures in a passionate embrace seems to last forever. Painted with gold leaf and intricate ornamentation, it is a celebration of pleasure, joy and life.


The work of Gustav Klimt is renowned for golden decoration, colorful patterns, spirals, and swirls. Influenced by historic traditions such as the Egyptian, Minoan, Classical Greek and Byzantine styles, the art of Gustav Klimt reflects an eclectic range of symbols and designs. He was also inspired by the engravings of Albert Durer, the Japanese Rimpa School and Freudean psychology. Gustav Klimt used symbols to conveyed psychological ideas, and his distinct symbolist style was part of the Art Nouveau movement.


Gustav Klimt adored women—the female body was the main subject of his paintings, and he freely explored the sex appeal of feminine beauty. Many of his famous nudes such as “Judith I” and “Danae” are overtly erotic. One of his beloved themes was the ‘femme fatale’. The romantic artist had numerous affairs with women and models and he fathered at least fourteen children. Despite many relationships, Gustav Klimt’s lifelong companion was Emilie Floge.


Born in Baumgarten, Austria in 1862 to an artistic family, Gustav Klimt lived most of his childhood in poverty, but his creative talent earned him a scholarship to the Vienna School of Arts and Crafts where he trained as an architectural painter. Gustav Klimt began a successful career painting murals and ceilings in public buildings, such as the Burgtheater in Vienna, for this work he was awarded the Golden Order of Merit from Emperor Franz Josef I of Austria.


During his life, Gustav Klimt was a very popular artist; he was one of the founders and the president of the famous “Vienna Secession” group. He received many commissions on serious themes such as Philosophy, Medicine and Jurisprudence. Although the response to some of Gustav Klimt’s work was negative, due to the excessive sexuality of the paintings; his “golden phase,” a period where he extensively used gold leaf, was well received by the public. It is during this time that he painted ‘The Kiss’ and ‘Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I’, which was one of the highest priced artworks to be sold at an auction.


Throughout his artistic career, Gustav Klimt enjoyed great fame and financial success. He once said about his art: “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.” Although he has never painted a self-portrait, it is clear that Gustav Klimt dedicated his love and art to women.


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