Gustav Klimt was an Austrian symbolist painter and one of the most prominent members of the Vienna Secession movement. His major works include paintings, murals, sketches, and other art objects, many of which are on display in the Belvedere Palace in Vienna. Klimt’s work is characterized by a highly ornamental style with intricate patterns and symbolism. The legacy of Gustav Klimt leaves on.
Klimt was born in Baumgarten, Austria, in 1862. He showed an early interest in art and enrolled at the Vienna Academy of Fine Arts when he was sixteen years old. Klimt studied under Viktor Ringler and Franz von Matsch—two conservative artists who emphasized form over content in their work. After several years at the Academy, Klimt decided to travel to Munich where he could study more freely outside of the strict academic setting.
In 1883, while he was in Munich, Klimt met his future business partner Adolf Schinnerer. The two men shared a similar interest in Japanese art and architecture, which would later influence Klimt’s work heavily.
In 1885, Klimt returned to Vienna and Schinnerer helped him secure his first public commission: two frescoes for the ceiling of the Great Hall at the University of Vienna. These two projects launched Klimt’s career as a professional artist. Klimt continued to receive prestigious commissions throughout his career but began to grow tired of painting according to other people’s expectations instead of following his own artistic vision.
In 1897, he co-founded the Vienna Secession—an organization dedicated to promoting modern art free from academic constraints—along with other like-minded artists such as Otto Wagner and Josef Hoffmann. The group held its first exhibition in 1898 which featured many scandalous works by Klimt including his famous painting “Beethoven Frieze”, created for Wagner’s funeral hall at Anton Bruckner University (now called Universitäts campus). This mural caused quite a stir due to its sexually explicit imagery but ultimately cemented Klimt’s reputation as an innovative artist unafraid to push boundaries.
While much of his work from this period is marked by a similar erotic quality, perhaps his most well-known painting from this time is “The Kiss” (1907-08), which depicts a couple embracing against a gold background adorned with geometric patterns. This painting lofted Klimt into fame both nationally and internationally; today it is considered one of Austria’s greatest cultural treasures.
During World War I, many public institutions closed down or scaled back their operations drastically due largely to a lack of funding. As a result, Klimt lost several important commissions. However, he did receive one final high-profile project: three grandiose paintings for Castle Stolzenfels on behalf of Emperor Franz Joseph I. The emperor himself unveiled these works at an event attended by numerous dignitaries; however, critical reception was mixed. Some praised Klimt’s use of color while others found fault with what they perceived as chaotic compositions.
Regardless, these paintings solidified Gustav Klimt’s legacy as one Of Austria’s preeminent painters. Many consider Klimt to be the greatest artist of his time period; others find his work garish and offensive. Whatever one’s opinion may be, there is no denying that Gustav Klimt was a master painter whose legacy continues to influence artists today.