The Artist Gustav Klimt

Born near Vienna in 1862, Gustav Klimt is linked to the Symbolist art movement that generally focused on anti-realism and was an artistic departure from Naturalism. Symbolist artists like Klimt painted highly metaphorical art that delighted in the imagination and dreams. Moreover, Klimt is, perhaps, best known for his erotically charged works that often featured the female body.

Klimt’s career also includes his stint as the first president of the Vienna Secession. In 1897, several Viennese artists like Klimt withdrew from the conservative Association of Austrian Artists. Klimt would eventually withdraw from the Vienna Secession over differences of opinion, but his art continued to remain emphatically symbolic in nature as well as both erotic and eclectic.

Klimt’s work owes much to its dazzling use of gold coloration; perhaps this is not surprising given his father’s occupation as a gold engraver. Although Klimt’s childhood witnessed considerable poverty, he was able to earn a scholarship to the Vienna School of Arts and Crafts in 1876 due to his artistic skill. Nearly a decade later, Klimt would be awarded the Golden Order of Merit from Emperor Franz Josef I for his work on city murals. Klimt’s personal life reflected liaisons with many women and he is believed to have fathered more than fourteen children.

During his career Klimt was often criticized for his “pornographic” style of art that was certainly sexual in nature. However, the artist’s “golden period” marked by his stylized use of gold coloration proved successful and helped achieve critical praise for his work. Judith I (1901) and, most famously, The Kiss (1908) are two of Klimt’s masterpieces. Klimt’s use of gold can be traced to his fascination with Byzantine art and his use of mosaic-inspired design is rooted in his trips to Venice and the art there that so inspired him.

Although Klimt appears to have led a promiscuous life, he was devoted to his family and led a discreet life away from other artists. At the time of his death in 1918 in Vienna, Klimt left behind several unfinished paintings. Today, the artist’s work fetches some of the highest recorded prices at auction. His Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer II sold for eighty-eight million dollars in 2006.

Klimt’s legacy includes his symbolic portfolio that exudes with artistic independence and singularity of style despite certain elements that may be similar to Byzantine art, for instance. His subject of the femme fatale and his erotic depictions are some of his most famous works, but he also incorporated Egyptian and even Greek elements of design into his paintings. His work is sought after by the most prestigious art museums and art collectors in the world and his life has inspired both literature and film.