14 July is the 150th anniversary of the birth of Gustav Klimt, prominent Austrian artist, a founder of the Vienna Secession movement, and he remained with the Secession until 1908.
© Lebrecht Authors
He is most remembered for his works produced during his ‘Golden Phase’ where many of the paintings used gold leaf. The paintings most popularly associated with this period are the Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I (1907) and The Kiss (1907 – 1908). These paintings of Viennese society ladies have always aroused huge interest because of the exotic and erotic style. They have since sold for fabulous sums – Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I was reportedly purchased for Ronald Lauder’s Neue Galerie New York for US $135 million.
Klimt began his professional career painting interior murals and ceilings in large public buildings on the Ringstrasse in Vienna including a successful series of Allegories and Emblems. In 1894,hewas commissioned to decorate the ceiling of the Great Hall in the University of Vienna. The three paintings, Philosophy, Medicine and Jurisprudence were criticized for their radical themes and approach, which was criticised as being ‘pornographic’. Klimt had created a new language which was more overtly sexual, and shocking to the mores of the time. Objections came from all fronts—political, aesthetic, and religious. All three paintings were destroyed by retreating SS forces in May 1945.
In 1902, Klimt finished the Beethoven Frieze for the 14th Vienna Secessionist exhibition, which was intended to be a celebration of the composer and featured a dramatic, polychromed sculpture by Max Klinger. The frieze was painted directly on the walls of the exhibition . It was not intended to last beyond the exhibition but the work was preserved, although it did not go on display again until 1986. The face on the Beethoven portrait resembles the composer and Vienna Court Opera director of this time Gustav Mahler.
Beethoven Frieze by Gustav Klimt, 1902
In the early 1890s, Klimt met Emilie Flöge, who, despite the artist’s relationships with other women, was to be his companion until the end of his life.
Gustav Klimt, Emilie Flöge and her mother
Adele Bloch-Bauer I by Gustav Klimt
Gustav Klimt ‘s painting ‘Der Kuss’ (The Kiss)
© A. Koch Interfoto/Lebrecht Music & Arts
Judith I by Gustav Klimt