Today I would like to invite you to the extraordinary world of art! The world of ornaments, gold, beautiful women and… Gustav Klimt!
You may not know his name, but I highly doubt that you haven’t seen his paintings, especially emblematic “the Kiss”.
I don’t really remember when I first came across his work. But it was many years ago. It was a love from the first sight! Which is surprising because in general, I am a fan of minimalism. Including the art. But somehow his pieces are extremely attractive to me. Most of them do not make me meditate on human nature ;) I simply admire their beauty and how unique they are. A true feast for my eyes.
As a consequence, I really wanted to visit Vienna in Austria. There, I could feel the spirit of “secession” (elsewhere called the Art Nouveau) while walking on the streets, appreciate facades of stunning buildings and enjoy Klimt’s work in museums:
- Austrian Gallery Belvedere (with “the Kiss”, “Judith”),
- Leopold Museum (“the Death and Life”, “Attersee”, “Still Pond”), and
- Klimt Villa I Gustav Klimt Atelier.
After all, Vienna is his hometown and a city that hosts many of his paintings!
Let’s start with a little biography, but I will only focus on what, in my opinion, are the most significant moments of his life.
Gustav was born in 1862 and was second out of seven children. His parents struggled their whole lives, but Gustav, like his 2 other brothers, was spotted since childhood as very talented and soon was awarded a scholarship in order to study in Vienna School of Arts and Crafts.
An example of his early work.
At first, his dreams weren’t big, he “just” wanted to become a drawing teacher. But once his work gained recognition and he was able to earn money from it, his ideas developed. Gustav, his younger brother and their mutual friend funded “the Company of Artists”. Their idea was simple – to focus on well-paid commissions! They devoted their time to paint murals in the public spaces (like churches or theatres). But as a consequence of this approach, he was painting using so-called historical style, which, to put is very simply, means showing the world and the people in “photographic” way, without adding personal artistic inclinations). Their plan worked very well, they even were awarded the Golden Order of Merit from Austro-Hungarian Emperor Franz Josef I!
The beginnings of the 1890s were significant to Klimt’s future development. First, he met Emilie Flöge, who will be his long-life friend, supporter, and muse. Later on, both his father and brother died. Luckily for us, those events pushed Klimt to experiment more and look for more “meaningful” ways of expressing himself.
In 1897 Gustav and some other Austrian Artists became the founding members of “the Vienna Secession” and Klimt became its first president. The movement included paintings, decorative arts, sculpting, and architecture. Vienna was not the first and alone with its liberation from classical and academic art. “The Art Nouveau”, “modernism” or “secession” was spreading throughout Europe.
On the one hand, “secessionists” didn’t declare a formal manifesto, which means there is not one style that unites the work of its artists. On the other hand they came up with a very symbolic and clear motto: “To every age its art, to every art its freedom”. These words were written on iconic “secession building” (above the entrance, and just under the golden dome) constructed in 1897 to be a place to exhibit the group.
Athena, the Greek goddess of wisdom and war, is an important symbol for artists. “Pallas Athena”, painted by Klimt in 1898, became the group’s emblem. What stands out is Athena's posture and face that appear ready for a battle, full of stamina, strength, and resistance. She is upright, with her wide-open eyes gazing at the viewer.
One of the Klimt’s most important works of that period is his “Beethoven Frieze” (1902) in the “secession building”. It was created to celebrate Beethoven and suppose to last only for a time of an exhibition. Therefore Klimt painted it directly on the wall (34 meters long and 2 meters high)! Fortunately, nowadays we can still admire it as the work has been preserved and well-maintained.
(…) frieze is based on Richard Wagner’s interpretation of the 9th Symphony by Ludwig van Beethoven, celebrating humankind’s yearning for happiness. (…) painting shows humanity struggling to overcome hostile forces such as sickness, madness, wantonness, and intemperance, and finally finding eternal bliss in art. The singing angels and the lovers embracing in the final section of the fresco refer to the symphony’s closing choir and Friedrich Schiller’s famous Ode “To Joy”: “This kiss to the whole world!”
“Judith I” (from 1901) is one of my favourite Klimt’s paintings.
According to the legend, Judith, the biblical heroine, was able to seduce an enemy’s army General and then decapitated him. This way she saved her hometown from destruction. Before Klimt Judith was commonly seen as a symbol of wisdom, courage, and virtue.
Klimt’s Judith is portrayed in a sexual trance, half-naked and with her ecstatic expression on her face. A femme fatale, who is taking pleasure in the killing.
I must highlight that this was not the first of Klimt’s paintings that provoked a scandal because of its nudity and alleged obscenity.
The story is that there was a petition against some of his works (namely: “Philosophy”, “Medicine”, and “Jurisprudence”) that initially were to be installed in the University of Vienna. They were called “pornographic”
His response to the public – “The Golden Fish” - is brilliant!
“The Golden Fish”
The painting, from 1903, is yet another example of what will be his trademark for many years- the use of golden leafs. Klimt’s idea was to call it “'To my Detractor”', but was advised to drop it.
The work of art shows 3 nude women and a goldfish. At the first glance, the scenery is light, vibrant and joyful. But there is something extremely intriguing about the red-haired women. Not only is she turning her bottom towards the viewer. If we look more carefully we can see that her face is also showing amusement mixed with a dose of contempt.
I hope you have enjoyed this part of Gustav Klimt’s story and art. I warmly invite you to check the second part which will be posted tomorrow :)
My latest recommendations: