The Artist Gustav Klimt

For some it’s just too daring for the others

 Golden dome

The eternity of a moment, captured in gold, silver and oil: “Der Kuss” (“The Kiss”) by Gustav Klimt. The painting from his “golden phase”, which originally bore the title “Liebespaar” (“Lovers”), was purchased virtually directly from the easel by the imperial ministry for culture. Not all of Klimt’s works were so favourably received however. The exhibition of his 34-metre-long Beethoven Frieze in 1902 was cut short, because its depictions of death and disease, eroticism and sensuality were considered by the authorities to be shameless and obscene, and to have overstepped the boundaries of good taste.

“An artist of incredible accomplishment, a man of rare depth, his art a sanctuary.” The painter Egon Schiele (1890-1918) on his friend and mentor Gustav Klimt (1862-1918)

Nevertheless the free-spirited Klimt was never short of commissions

what was too risqué for the ministries was just right for the Viennese bourgeoisie. Here not only his works but also the master himself was well-received. Rumour had it that he enjoyed numerous affairs with the wives of the various industrialists whose portraits he was commissioned to paint – among them Adele Bloch-Bauer. Many of the silent witnesses to these intimate tête-à-têtes are today accessible in Vienna museums, particularly the Belvedere, which not only has the largest collection with 22 pictures, but also the star among them: Der Kuss.

 Artistic faces on the building wall of the Secession building

 Owls of stone

Painting by Gustav Klimt

Promoted by some, rejected by others:

even though Klimt was not able to enjoy the full artistic freedom he demanded, the impact of his work and his persona could not be stopped. Already internationally acclaimed during his lifetime, today he is considered one the most significant proponents of Jugendstil (Art Nouveau).  His painting “Goldene Adele” (Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I) fetched 135 million dollars at auction in 2006 – at the time the most expensive painting ever. At the Secession – the gallery of the Vienna Jugendstil artists – whose first president he was, is written in gold letters what he wanted for Vienna and what he achieved: “Der Zeit ihre Kunst. Der Kunst ihre Freiheit.” (“To the age its art. To art its freedom.”)

Text: Agnes Hamberger, Fotos: Christine Wurnig