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GUSTAV KLIMT

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THE KISS, C.1908


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Biography
Gustav Klimt

Austrian painter and founder of the school of painting known as the Vienna Sezession. Gustav Klimt (1862-1918) shocked early 20th century audiences with his unorthodox, subtly erotic paintings.

Born in Baumgarten, a suburb of Vienna, Klimt's interest in art was nurtured by his father, an engraver in gold and silver. The artist's formal training began at Kunstgewerbeschule in Vienna. After studying at the Vienna School of Decorative Arts, Klimt in 1883 opened an independent studio specializing in the execution of mural paintings. His early work was typical of late 19th-century academic painting, as can be seen in his murals for the Vienna Burgtheater (1888) and on the staircase of the Kunsthistorisches Museum.

In 1897 Klimt's mature style emerged, and he founded the Vienna Sezession, a group of painters who revolted against academic art in favour of a highly decorative style similar to Art Nouveau. Soon thereafter he painted three allegorical murals for the ceiling of the University of Vienna auditorium that were violently criticized; the erotic symbolism and pessimism of these works created such a scandal that the murals were rejected. His later murals, the "Beethoven Frieze" (1902; Österreichische Gallery, Vienna) and the murals (1909-11) in the dining room of the Stoclet House, Brussels, are characterized by precisely linear drawing and the bold and arbitrary use of flat, decorative patterns of colour and gold leaf. Klimt's most successful works include "The Kiss" (1908; Österreichische Gallery) and a series of portraits he did of fashionable Viennese matrons, such as "Frau Fritza Riedler" (1906; Österreichische Gallery) and "Frau Adele Bloch-Bauer" (1907; Österreichische Gallery).

In "The Kiss," Klimt's best known work, beautifully rendered figures float dreamlike in space, wrapped in an abstracted mosaic robe that veils graceful organic contours. The rhythmic flowing line and biomorphic form of Klimt's unparalleled paintings became a potent influence on the Art Nouveau movement. In other works he treats the human figure without shadow and heightens the lush sensuality of skin by surrounding it with areas of flat, highly ornamental, and brilliantly composed areas of decoration.

Used with permission.
The Columbia Encyclopedia, Sixth Edition.
Copyright © 2001 Columbia University Press