Art that glows golden for over a century — celebrating Gustav Klimt’s birthday

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'Judith and the Head of Holofernes', 1901, Gustav Klimt | Courtesy: Wikipedia.org

July 14, On This Day

Gustav Klimt in 1887 | Via Wikipedia

Born on July 14, 1862, Austrian symbolist painter Gustav Klimt is more than just a well-known name in the history of art. His shimmering gold leaf-flecked iconic artworks — one of the most famous being the enduring ‘The Kiss’ — have been looked upon as objects of immense beauty and inspiration for over a century now. While much is already known about the painter, we list below a handful of trivia that would acquaint an art aficionado better with the Modern master.

  • Klimt was one of the founding members, and president of the Vienna Secession movement, which had the goal of providing exhibitions for unconventional young artists, to bring the works of the best foreign artists to Vienna, and declared no manifesto, letting Naturalists, Realists, and Symbolists all coexist.
  • Klimt is noted for his paintings, murals, sketches, and other objets d’art. Klimt’s primary subject was the female body, and his works are marked by a frank eroticism. Besides his stunning figurative works, which include allegories and portraits, he also painted landscapes. It is said that Klimt was most influenced by Japanese art and its methods.
‘Adele Bloch-Bauer I’ (1907), Gustav Klimt | Via Wikipedia
‘Judith and the Head of Holofernes’, 1901, Gustav Klimt | Via Wikipedia
‘The Kiss’, 1907-08, Gustav Klimt | Via Wikipedia
  • Another huge influence: Although Klimt rarely travelled, he is known to have visited Venice and Ravenna, both famous for their glistening, gold-specked Byzantine mosaics. These made a marked impression on Klimt and were likely the driving force behind his “Golden Phase”. Many of his paintings from this period included gold leaf. Klimt previously used gold in works like ‘Judith I’ (1901), but the works most popularly associated with this period are the ‘Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I’ (1907) and ‘The Kiss’ (1907–08).
  • Klimt’s work was an important influence on his younger peer, the famous Egon Schiele. In 1907 a then-teenaged Schiele saw Klimt as an idol and sought him out. The two fostered an artistic friendship and elements of Klimt’s avant garde style can be found in many of Schiele’s early works and drawings.

‘Klimt in a light Blue Smock’ by Egon Schiele, 1913 | Via Wikipedia
  • Klimt is said to have been a notorious womanizer and fathered at least 14 children. Many of the subjects of his paintings were women. Also, he rarely left Vienna.
‘The Virgin’, 1913, Gustav Klimt | Via Wikipedia
‘Frau bei der Selbstbefriedigung (Woman Masturbating)’, 1913, Gustav Klimt | Via Wikipedia
  • There was also a monogamous and reportedly rather chaste love written in his life. In the early 1890s Klimt met Austrian fashion designer Emilie Louise Flöge (a sibling of his sister-in-law) who was to be his companion until the end of his life. His painting, ‘The Kiss’ (1907-08), is thought to be an image of them as lovers, which was painted five years after Klimt’s 1902 full-length portrait of her.
  • Klimt also loved cats! He had many pet cats, including his beloved Katze, pictured with the artist in an evocative 1912 photograph. The critic Arthur Roessler recalled a visit to Klimt’s studio, “surrounded by eight or ten mewing and purring cats” running wild through heaps of sketches. When Roessler questioned why the cats were allowed such liberty, Klimt replied, “It doesn’t matter if they crumple or tear a few sheets — they piss on others, and don’t you know, that’s the best fixative.”
Gustav Klimt and his cat, Katze, at his Studio on Josefstaedter Strasse, Vienna, Austria, c. 1912. Photography by Moriz Naehr, Image courtesy of the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco. Via AnOther Magazine
  • In 1894, Klimt was commissioned to create three paintings to decorate the ceiling of the Great Hall of the University of Vienna. The resulting ‘Philosophy’, ‘Medicine’, and ‘Jurisprudence’ were criticized for their radical themes and material, and were called “pornographic”, with public outcry from all quarters — political, aesthetic and religious. All three paintings were destroyed when retreating German forces burned Schloss Immendorf in May 1945.
  • Klimt died in Vienna on February 6, 1918, having suffered a stroke and pneumonia due to the worldwide influenza epidemic of that year.
‘Philosophie’, 1899-1907, Gustav Klimt. Destroyed 1945 | Via Wikipedia
‘Medicine’, 1899-1907, Gustav Klimt. Destroyed 1945 | Via Wikipedia
‘Jurisprudence’, 1899-1907, Gustav Klimt. Destroyed 1945 | Via Wikipedia