Gustav Klimt

November 16, 2009

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Date of Birth:
Klimt was born on July 14th, 1862 as the second oldest son in a family of seven.

Inspiration:
Klimt was inspired by a painter named Hans Makart, who painted mostly hyper-realistic and academic things.

Education:
His family resided in Austria, very close to Vienna, and was plagued with poverty.  Klimt always showed signs of being artistic, even from an early age.  His oldest and youngest brothers, Ernst and Georg, were also artistically inclined.  Family members and friends pushed Gustav to apply for the Vienna School of Arts and Crafts, and at the age of 14, he was accepted on a scholarship.  His brother, Ernst, also attended this school with him.1

Klimt spent 7 years at the school, working with his brother and another student named Franz Matsch. Towards the end of his schooling, Klimt, his brother and Matsch began getting commissions as a team, under the name “Company of Artists”.  They were even able to work with their professor on a mural for the Kunsthistorisches Museum.

Works of Note:

Illustrator Miscellany:
For the past few centuries there have been many talented and noteworthy artists and illustrators around the world.  Many of these illustrators go under the radar of the non-artistic world, but there are a few who stand out from the rest and are recognized even today by artists and non-artists alike.  Gustav Klimt is one of these.  He’s an exceptionally talented artist and illustrator, and although he died nearly a century ago, his illustrations still go on to awe and inspire people today.

In 1888, Klimt was awarded the Golden order of Merit from Emperor Franz Josef I of Austria for his mural work.  Up until this time, he has been working alongside his brother in creating his artwork.  In 1892, his father and brother both died unexpectedly, which may have been a factor in Klimt’s change of style in the next few years.2  In 1899, Nikolaus Dumba commissioned Klimt, Makart and Matsch to paint murals for his house and Klimt was given the responsibility of decorating his music room.  This is the first real evidence of Klimt’s change in style.  He begins to look inward, trying to please himself with his art instead of trying to please everyone around him.  During this time, he paints Music II and Schubert at the Piano as well as Nuda Veritas later on in the same year. All of these works have a glowing orange/yellow coloration that’s very common in Klimt’s most famous works.  It’s easy to see that his anatomy, especially female, begins to take a turn away from hyperrealism and develops more into a unique style.  This evolution of style eventually goes so far as to be considered pornographic and perverse by the general public, much different from his highly acclaimed and popular work from school.3

Examination of Materials:
Klimt worked in…

Style Analysis

Klimt’s first notable and important work of art was also the last government-issued commission he ever took on.  In 1894 he was commissioned by the University of Vienna to create three paintings for their Great Hall, depicting philosophy, medicine and jurisprudence.4  An issue arose between Matsch and Klimt that went unresolved that caused a great delay in this project, which easily could have added to Klimt’s irritation with the whole procedure.5  Each of his paintings was titled with the same names and depicted nude women and “overtly sexual” themes.  He had taken symbolism to a new level, and it wasn’t taken well by anyone – government, religious or the general public.6  A poll was taken, and it was decided that his paintings were too pornographic, and thus, were never hung in the Great Hall.7  Klimt inevitably became frustrated and realized public commissions wouldn’t allow him the freedom he wanted with his artwork and refused to take on any more.  Sadly, the SS destroyed these beautiful pieces of work during World War II, and few photos remain to preserve them.

Later on, Klimt entered a Golden Age in his artwork, which not only referred to his work being publicly accepted once again, but also to his famous use of gold leaf within many of his paintings.8  During this time, Klimt created the painting The Kiss, which could easily be considered his most famous painting.  It is meant to “celebrate the attraction of the sexes”9 with a man leaning over a woman in assertive/passive poses.  The robe and clothing in this painting is due credit for the painting’s success and lack of criticism from critics.10  The sexual nature of the painting still seems evident, but Klimt has disguised it in a way that makes it appealing and non-offensive to the public of the time.  It is speculated that the mosaics of Venice and Ravenna inspired Klimt during this time.

The Golden Age produced many amazing works of art for Klimt, one of the most memorable being a frieze in Palais Stoclet, the home of a Belgian industrialist.  In 1909 he collaborated with several other artists, but personally painted two intricate and beautiful mosaics in the dining room called Fulfillment and Expectation.  Klimt even states that they are “probably the ultimate stage of my development of ornate”.  These works are considered to be exceptional examples of the art nouveau movement.11  He created these mosaics in a workshop in Vienna out of precious materials such as gold, silver and jewels.12  This was the last wall that Klimt ever decorated.13  The patterning on each of these is intricate and connected to the other, creating an amazing piece of work that lives up to Klimt’s standards.

For part of his life, Klimt was also part of the Vienna secession, as one of the founding members and also the president for some time.  He was part of this group from 1897 to 1908, and during that time was part of their periodical, Ver Sacrum.  Their goal was to show and publish the best work, and bring the best work to Vienna without being prejudice on style or type of artwork, while focusing on young artists.14  Later on, Klimt began to view the utopian ideals of the secession as obsolete and decided to give up on the great movement he had built.
Towards the very end of his life, Klimt created the painting Life and Death as he contemplated the nearing of the end of his life.15  This painting won him first prize in the world exhibitions that was held in Rome.  This was one of his last great paintings, as he died 7 years later, in 1918, due to stroke and pneumonia.
Klimt led a very productive and successful life.  He seemed to come to terms with the tragedy of poverty and his brother and father dying at an early age.  His work is still highly regarded today and is said to sell for some of the highest prices in the market, beating out even Picasso.16  Although most illustrators go unnoticed by the general public in today’s world, Klimt is one of the lucky few that gets recognition even from the most unusual of places and people.

– Jessie Wright, Spring 2009

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Endnotes: