Movement: Art Nouveau, Symbolism
Gustav Klimt's Famous Artworks
“Judith and the Head of Holofernes,” 1901
“Beethoven Frieze,” 1902
“The Three Ages of Woman,” 1905
“The Kiss,” 1908
“Death and Life,” 1916
Gustav Klimt was an Austrian painter and decorative artist, best known as the leader of the Viennese avant-garde and the founder of the Vienna Secession. Gustav Klimt's paintings
revolutionized the European aesthetic with its treatment of eroticism and the female anatomy, using fantastical elements to create a surreal sensibility.
Gustav Klimt's Early Life
Gustav was born in the suburb of Baumgarten in July of 1862, the second son of Ernst Klimt, a jewel-engraver from Bohemia, and failed music performer Anna Finster. The family lived on the edge of poverty, with the market crash of 1873 making employment an impossibility for immigrants in the Habsburg Empire. The household moved frequently, from one cheap housing project to another, and were not strangers to tragedy: in 1874, Klimt’s sister Anna succumbed to a lengthy illness, shortly after which another sister, Klara, was institutionalized following a nervous breakdown.
In autumn of 1876, he applied for a seat at the School of Applied Arts in Vienna and passed the entrance exam with distinction.
Gustav Klimt's Education
The faculty at the university was especially impressed with Klimt, whose masterful replications of drawing and sculpture allowed him the leeway to paint from life. He conducted a number of soft pencil studies of Rubens, Titian and contemporary artist Hans Makart, whose ability to manipulate light and incorporate a dramatic sense of pageantry eventually led the young painter to bribe one of his valets to secretly let him see Makart’s work in progress.
Towards the end of his two-year course at the university, Klimt became friends with fellow student Franz Matsch, who specialized in large-scale canvases, and the two rented a studio together in the city. Through collaboration and discourse, the artists commenced a period of creative growth that led to the immense financial success they encountered early in their careers. Soon, they were in demand by Vienna’s cultural intelligentsia, receiving commissions from celebrities, public officials and prominent architectural firms.
However, Klimt would not be able to fully appreciate his rise to fame as, by 1892, both his father and brother had passed away — the latter most suddenly of pericarditis — leaving the artist financially responsible for the female members of the family.
Gustav Klimt's Career
After the death of his brother Ernst, Klimt became disillusioned with the structure of academic painting and parted ways with Matsch, who at the time was working on a series of decorative murals for the Ministry of Education. Although Klimt did produce almost 40 ceiling paintings for the project, it was the last collaborative efforts between the two. Adopting the Symbolist idiom, he began focusing on the female nude, courting controversy and scandal in Vienna’s high society who considered his artistic theories vague. He also started exhibiting his works at different galleries
and other art spaces.
In 1897, he began the process by which the Vienna Secession would emerge, renouncing his membership to the city’s leading artists’ union, the Kunstlerhaus and forming his own association with Koloman Moser, Josef Hoffmann and Joseph Maria Olbrich. In both theory and practice, the Secession existed to allow young artists space to exhibit their work and expose Vienna to the avant-garde movements of the Continent. Curiously, their exhibitions were well-received by the public, whose knowledge of modern art
was miniscule. During this period, Klimt fostered a relationship with Emilie Floge, the sister of Ernst’s wife Helene, which would last the remainder of his life.
Gustav Klimt's Later Life
Klimt spent the last decade of his life between working in Heitzing and spending time at the country home of his paramour. Although the couple had an obvious romantic connection, it is said that the relationship remained unconsummated. In fact, many of Klimt’s drawings from this period are, to date, considered too erotic to exhibit. You can buy Gustav Klimt's artworks online
In early 1918, he suffered a stroke that left him bedridden and paralyzed on one side. Without the ability to hold a pencil or brush, he became uninterested in living and succumbed to influenza a month later.
Gustav Klimt's Major Exhibitions
1898 - Vienna Secession, Secession Building, Austria
1908 - Kunstschau, Vienna
1909 - Internationale Kunstschau, Vienna
1910 - Galerie Miethke Vienna, Austria
1926 - Neue Galerie, Vienna
1959 - Galerie St. Etienne, New York
1986 - Museum of Modern Art, New York
1992 - Kunsthaus Zurich, Switzerland
2007 - Kunsthal Rotterdam, Rotterdam
Gustav Klimt's Museums/Collections
Art Institute of Chicago
National Gallery, London
National Galleries of Scotland, Edinburgh
Neue Pinakothek, Munich
Musée d'Orsay, Paris
National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa
Aichi Prefectural Museum, Japan
Galerie Rudolfinum, Prague
“Gustav Klimt: Art Nouveau Visionary” by Eva di Stefano
“Gustav Klimt: Painter of Women” by Susanna Partsch