Studying art in college, there are many great artists that influenced me and my work. But there are a few artists which changed my perception of looking at a subject. Gustav Klimt is one of these artists whose paintings have influenced many painters after him. The Austrian painter was born in Baumgarten: a village located outside the city of Vienna. Klimt attended the Vienna School of Decorative Arts from 1876 to 1883 where he got formal education in Architectural painting. His work is famous for its eroticism and had the female body as the main subject. Highly inspired by the Japanese art, he was one of the prominent figures during the Vienna Secession movement.
Despite the controversial subject of eroticism, Klimt’s passion for his work didn’t die, and he lived to see success. He gained both critical and financial success in the early nineteenth century which is marked as the “Golden Phase”. This phase is mostly known for the painter’s use of gold leafs. Today, he is regarded as one of the great Symbolist painters. He is survived by many of his paintings and drawings while some of his work was destroyed. “Klimt University of Vienna Ceiling Paintings” were three of his works which are now known to be destroyed. Here is a list of work by Gustav Klimt which I considered to be his best:
This may be considered as the best painting by Klimt but is definitely the most known among all his works. Completed in 1908, The Kiss is best known for its use of symbolism. Painted during the Golden Phase, this painting is known for its use of gold leaf which gives it a shimmering tone. The two figures in the painting are not seen naked and yet it arises in the viewer a sense of sensuality. They are the figures of a man and woman who are painted quite differently symbolizing the different interpretation of the painting.
Some interpret the black and gray blocks painted on the man as a symbol of masculine force. While the circles and floral designs painted on the woman are interpreted in comparison to the former as feminine. Both the figures seem to give birth to a fertile earth painted mainly in green with floral designs on it. The painting was sold before its completion to the Belvedere Museum of Vienna, Austria. There, it was put on exhibition and was received with a lot of enthusiasm. This is also one of Klimt’s few paintings where he has included both man and woman in the frame.
Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I
This painting is the only work of Klimt that he painted twice (the other completed in 1912). He was commissioned to do so by the industrialist Ferdinand Bloch-Bauer whose wife is the subject of this portrait. Another of his works painted during the “Golden Phase”, this painting was completed in 1907. During World War 2, the painting was stolen by the Nazis. Not only was it claimed by the Nazis but the painting traveled a lot before being sold to Ronald Lauder in 2006. He bought it for $135 million and it has since been in the exhibition of Neue Galerie in New York.
The painting is noted for its depiction of both sensuality and femininity. Most of the painting merges into its background of gold while the subject’s hands and face are in contrast with it. Also, the hands and face are the only two things in the painting which are painted with oil. The painting is also known due to the alleged affair between Adelle and Klimt but there is no evidence to suggest this. The use of symbols by Klimt as well as the influence on this painting range from the art of Byzantine to Greece.
The Tree of life
Completed in 1909, The Tree of Life is a highly illustrious painting which uses numerous symbols. The concept of “tree of life” itself is very important among artists and has been used by many in their work. Like in this painting by Klimt, this concept is used to depict the subjectivity as well as discourse of life. In this painting, Klimt seems to suggest a connection between two worlds: possibly heaven and earth. The tree’s branches have a lot of different figures and designs which symbolize many themes and subjects. Meanwhile, the two figures on both sides of the tree are shown as contradictory.
Apart from the universal subject of this painting, it can also be interpreted as a personal allegory of a man’s virtues. Also, some interpret this painting as a representation of masculinity and femininity. The painting seems to have a pattern and at the same time it doesn’t. This can be seen through the use of the carefully illustrated tree and the positioning of the figures. But the black bird on a branch of the tree is something which oddly attracts the viewer’s eye. Due to the subjectivity and universal themes of this painting, it remains one of his most famous works.
Judith and the Head of Holofernes
This painting which was completed in 1901 is one of Klimt’s most bold pieces of work. Inspired by the Biblical character Judith, it depicts her holding the head of Holofernes. The story relates to the Assyrian general Holofernes and his siege of the Jewish city of Bethulia. Judith, a widow seduced him and then decapitated his head with his own sword. This tale of Judith has been retold to the world many times as a symbol of a female rage. Before Klimt, many artists have chosen Judith as a subject of their artwork.
The depiction of Judith by Klimt is done in a manner which represents her as a femme fatale figure. This interpretation can be made due to the expression on her face showing a touch of seduction. Many people consider this as a symbol of the power of sexuality which is also backed by the story of the incident. Klimt made another painting of Judith, where she wears a rather fierce expression as opposed to this one. People have also found similarities between the Judith of this painting and the portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer. Suggesting that Adele could have been the model or an influence for this painting.
Painted for the 14th Vienna Secessionist exhibition, this painting completed in 1902 is on display at the Secession Building, Vienna, Austria. However, the painting was preserved right after 1902 and wasn’t put out for a public display until 1986. This painting was made to celebrate the famous German composer Luwig van Beethoven. It also features a monumental polychrome sculpture made by the famous German painter Max Klinger. Not only is this painting known for its humongous size but it also carries a weight of 4 ton. Like many of Klimt’s works, this painting contains a lot of symbols as well as themes.
The painting inspired by Ludwig van Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony (1824) is visually influenced by many art movements of the world. The figures on the left wall of this painting are seen as a symbol of the mortal search and struggle for happiness. On the middle wall is a hurdle that stops the mortal to achieve happiness. This is depicted through seductive imagery of women, then through the figure of Typhoeus the giant and finally the red haired woman suggesting sexual appetite. The final and the third wall of this painting is the symbols of happiness which the mortal gains through art.
Other Famous Works
Gustav Klimt’s long range of work shows his skills as well as his genius as an artist. Apart from the aforementioned paintings, there are a number of drawings which he made. There are around 400 drawings and sketches by Klimt which have been found as well as redefined. Gustav Klimt died in 1918 due to a stroke and pneumonia but his work continued to gain success even after his death.
A year after his death, Fünfundzwanzig Handzeichnungen (twenty-five drawings) was released. Most of the work in this series is erotic in nature and gained the critical reception which it couldn’t while Klimt was alive. Many of his works are still remade and are re imagined by artists who are heavily influenced by his work. The financial rankings of an art may not be a true representation but has still maintained the status of Klimt’s name.
Where can we Witness his Art Live?
If you are an art enthusiast, you can witness the genius works of Gustav Klimt live at many exhibitions around the world. Many of his work can be seen on display at The Burgtheater and The Leopold Museum in Vienna. Another place in Vienna is the Kunsthistorisches Museum where you can see some of his great works. The famous Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer: The Woman in Gold (1907) on display at the Neue Galerie in New York.