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Austria • 1862−1918

Biography and information

Gustav Klimt (July 14, 1862, Baumgarten, Austrian Empire – February 6, 1918,Vienna, Austria-Hungary) was an Austrian symbolist artist and one of the most prominent members of the Vienna Secession movement. He also produced one of the century's most significant bodies of erotic art. The son of gold engraver and jeweler, perhaps genetically predisposed to the arts, displayed notable talent early on.

In 1876, Klimt was awarded a scholarship to the Vienna School of Arts and Crafts (Kunstgewerbeschule), where he studied until 1883. He revered the foremost history painter of the time, Hans Makart. His early art style may be classified as academic, cause he readily accepted the principles of a conservative training. At the age of 26 he received the Imperial award for his contributions to murals painted in the Burgtheater in Vienna.

His simple life was somewhat cloistered, devoted to his art style and family and little else except the Secessionist Movement, and he avoided café society and other artists socially. Klimt's fame usually brought patrons to his door, and he could afford to be highly selective. His painting method was very deliberate and painstaking at times and he required lengthy sittings by his subjects.

Although his artworks were not widely accepted during his life, some of the pieces that Gustav Klimt did create during his career, are today seen as some of the most important and influential pieces to come out of Austria. Despite the sarcastic comments and critics, Klimt until his death remained a favorite of the public and his paintings got some of the highest prices, recorded for individual works of art.

Attributes of work by Gustav Klimt:
he never painted a single self-portrait and never claimed to be revolutionizing art in any way. Early in his artistic career, he was a successful painter of architectural decorations in a conventional manner. With the groundbreaking Secession, Klimt's primary aim was to call attention to underappreciated Viennese artists and in turn to call their attention to the much broader world of modern art beyond Austria's borders. In this sense he is responsible for helping to transform Vienna into a leading center for culture and the arts at the turn of the century. The primary subject was the female body, and his paintings are marked by a frank eroticism. According to his biography, the viewer "should seek to recognize what I am and what I want.” In the early 1900s, Klimt was in the midst of what is commonly referred to as his art nouveau “Golden Phase”. He created a series of paintings that made extensive use of ornamental gold leaf and a flat, two-dimensional perspective reminiscent of Byzantine mosaics to create striking iconic figures.

The most famous Klimt’s artworks
are distinguished by the elegant gold or coloured decoration, often of a phallic shape that conceals the more erotic positions of the drawings upon which many of his paintings are based. This can be seen in such works as «The kiss», «Portrait Of Adele Bloch-Bauer», «Judith and Holofernes», «Pallas Athena», «Danae», «The naked truth», «The three ages of women». His mature paintings are characterized by a rejection of earlier naturalistic styles, and make use of symbols or symbolic elements to convey psychological ideas and emphasize the "freedom" of art from traditional culture.

Artist’s evolution: art nouveau works
Art historians note an eclectic range of influences contributing to Klimt's distinct style, including Egyptian, Minoan, Classical Greek, and Byzantine inspirations. He was also inspired by the engravings of Albrecht Dürer, late medieval European painting, and Japanese Rimpa School.

In 1897 Klimt became one of the founding members and president of the Vienna Secession and of the group's periodical, "Sacred Spring". He remained with the „Jugenstil“(Art Nouveau style) until 1908. The group's goals were to provide exhibitions for unconventional young artists, to bring the best foreign works to Vienna, and to publish its own magazine to showcase members' work. The group declared no manifesto and did not set out to encourage any particular style -- Naturalists, Realists, and Symbolists all coexisted. The government supported their efforts and gave them a lease on public land to erect an exhibition hall.

In 1894, Klimt created three paintings to decorate the ceiling of the Great Hall in the University of Vienna. Not completed until the turn of the century, his three paintings, Philosophy, Medicine and Jurisprudence were criticized for their radical themes and material, which was called "pornographic". Klimt had transformed traditional allegory and symbolism into a new language which was more overtly sexual, and hence more disturbing. The public outcry came from all quarters — political, aesthetic, and religious. As a result, they were not displayed on the ceiling of the Great Hall. This would be the last public commission accepted by the artist. All three paintings were destroyed by retreating SS forces in May 1945. His Nuda Verita (1899) defined his bid to further shake up the establishment. The starkly naked red-headed woman holds the mirror of truth, while above it is a quote by Schiller in stylized lettering, «If you cannot please everyone with your deeds and your art, pleases a few. To please many is bad."