Gustav Klimt — Glimmering Gold & Symbolism – Kuriosis Skip to content

Gustav Klimt — Glimmering Gold & Symbolism

Gustav Klimt (July 14, 1862 - February 6, 1918) was an Austrian Symbolist painter and one of the most prominent members of the Vienna Art Nouveau (Vienna Secession) movement.

Gustav Klimt was born in Baumgarten (now a district of Vienna) on July 14, 1862. Gustav Klimt's father Ernst was a professional goldsmith and engraving artist. Klimt studied at the Kunstgewerbeschule (School of Applied Arts) in Vienna. Young Klimt gained his first professional experience by performing various decorative works. This activity, combined with the artistic climate that developed at the turn of the century in Vienna, found a big expression in the already mature work of the artist.


Portrait of Adele Bloch Bauer Art Print by Gustav Klimt

Portrait of Adele Bloch Bauer Art Exhibition Poster by Gustav Klimt


In 1897, Gustav Klimt officially rejected the dominant academic canons and, together with others from the artistic world of this place and period, founded the Association of Austrian Artists - Secession, with which he was associated until 1905. Klimt's goal was an attempt to create a total work, or perhaps more bluntly - absolute, i.e. free from any conventions, which meant freedom from restrictions imposed by academic concepts.

Gustav Klimt's paintings are therefore a specific expression of unlimited creative freedom, they fully express the complexity and lushness of the era in which he had to create. His works have inspired many solutions among modern artists.


Judith the head of Holofernes by Gustav Klimt (1901) Art Exhibition Poster

Judith the head of Holofernes by Gustav Klimt


In 1888, Klimt received the Gold Order of Merit from Emperor Franz Joseph I for his contribution to the execution of murals painted at the Burgtheater in Vienna. He also became an honorary member of the University of Munich and the University of Vienna. Characteristic of his style - at the end of the 19th century - is the inclusion of the motif expressed in the words "nuda veritas" (naked truth) as a symbol expressed in the characters of some of his works, including such as "Ancient Greece and Egypt" (1891), Pallas Atene (1898)

In the early 1890s, Klimt met Austrian fashion designer Emilie Louise Flöge (his sister-in-law's siblings), who was to be his companion for the rest of his life.

"Art is a line around your thoughts."

- Gustav Klimt

His painting "The Kiss" (1907–08) is considered to be a painting dedicated to their love. Klimt's "Golden Age" was characterised by quite a positive response from critics, which was reflected in the financial success. Many of his paintings from this period featured the golden leaf symbol: his most popular works related to this period are "Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I" (1907) and "The Kiss" (1907 –08).


Interestingly, in his paintings, Gustav Klimt often used a technique he developed, inspired by Byzantine art, in which he combined oil paint with silver foil or special gold in thin flakes, applied directly to the canvas.

As mentioned before the Austrian's works were to be based on the assumptions of total work, that is not related to any fashions, ideas imposed from above or the influences of the epoch. Creative freedom, sensitivity, imagination, and intuition - this was the only thing Gustav Klimt wanted to follow in his work.

All of them are characterised by extraordinary decorativeness, the use of shiny surfaces with a dominant gold, numerous wavy and geometric shapes, and symbolism that is clear even to the viewer uninitiated in the history of painting. Interestingly, Klimt has always combined exotic ornaments with remarkable precision in depicting human faces, which can be seen, for example, in "Portrait of Adela Bloch-Bauer I - Golden Adel".


Portrait of Adele Bloch Bauer I By Gustav Klimt Art Exhibition Poster

Portrait of Adele Bloch Bauer I By Gustav Klimt Art Exhibition Poster

Gustav Klimt was best known for his gilded portraits of women embodying the modernity of Vienna, a city that respected him as the most famous artist of the era. The beginning of his successes turned out to be his turning away from the conventions of academic painting. Disappointed with the stuffy limitations of the artistic community to which he belonged along with many Viennese artists, he left the association to form a new artistic movement known as the Viennese Secession. As a co-founder of the Viennese Secession, Gustav Klimt was able to develop his personal, eclectic and often fantastic style without interference from third parties. Even though many critics did not like the controversial subject of his work, Klimt turned out to be a very influential artist whose nudes, allegorical gardens and erotic content formed the basis of many painters of future generations.

In subsequent works, Gustav Klimt became interested in presenting the realities of Vienna at that time. Under a layer of gold and rich details, he portrayed a world of adultery and prostitution in which men provided their needs by publicly condemning the women who provided them. Interestingly, even his famous "Kiss" is not what it seems at first glance. The man here is the epitome of sexual desire, although on the surface the picture seems to be an extremely delicate, romantic and charming representation.


Danae by Gustav Klimt Art Exhibition Poster

Danae by Gustav Klimt Art Exhibition Poster


In 1904, he collaborated with other artists on the sumptuous Palais Stoclet, the home of a wealthy Belgian industrialist that has become one of the greatest monuments of the Art Nouveau era.

Gustav Klimt died on February 6, 1918, in Vienna, being an Austrian painter and graphic artist, and an outstanding symbolist. As one of the most prominent representatives of the secession, Gustav Klimt was the leader of Viennese modernism.

His works are an expression of unlimited creative freedom, fully expressing the lushness and complexity of the era in which he was able to create.

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