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Gustav Klimt
Austria
1862-1918

Gustav Klimt

Modern
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Gustav Klimt (July 14, 1862 - February 6, 1918), born in Vienna, was a well-known Austrian symbolist painter. He was a member of the Vienna Secession movement and was a representative of the Vienna Cultural Circle. Gustav Klimt's paintings are characterized by particular symbolic ornamentation and the extensive use of sexual themes. His landscape Farm Garden with Sunflowers sold for £48 million at the London Impressionism and Modernism evening sale.


Overview

Born in Vienna, Klimt attended the School of Arts and Crafts attached to the Austrian Museum in Vienna at the age of 14, where he received 17 years of basic training in academic painting, after which he set up his own design studio with his brother and friends to paint murals at home and abroad. His early works were essentially traditional in expression, characterized by rigorous forms and strong colors. After starting the Vienna Secession movement, he explored a combination of decorative and symbolic expressions.

Klimt's art was influenced by the Dutch Symbolist painter Toorop, the Swiss Symbolist painter Hodler, and the English Pre-Raphaelite Bialy, as well as by Byzantine mosaics and the decorative arts of Eastern European peoples, resulting in a "mosaic style" in his paintings. Later, his interest in Chinese painting with strong colors, bright lines, and other oriental arts led to a new change in his painting style. He also used craft techniques to compose his artworks with flat decorative patterns using materials such as feathers, metals, glass and precious stones, giving his works a magnificent decorative effect. In his works, the composition is strict and meticulous. Except for the naked face and body of the figure, the rest of the costume and background is filled with abstract geometric patterns. This combination of slender deformation and realistic shape is surrounded by an abstract, symbolic, and even mysterious atmosphere, with a flower bed-like decorative beauty. Inside the splendid and luxurious appearance, there is also a tragic atmosphere of human misery, sorrow, silence and death.


Early Years and Education

Klimt was born in Baumgarten, near Vienna, the second of three sons and four daughters in his family. Klimt's father, Ernst Klimt, was a gold engraver from Bohemia, and his wife, Anna Klimt, dreamed of a career in music but never achieved it. Klimt's family was always poor, and at a time when jobs were scarce, the economic development of immigrants was difficult.


In 1876, Klimt received a scholarship to the Kunstgewerbeschule in Vienna, where he attended until 1883 and trained as an architectural painter. At the time, he revered the leading historical painter Hans Makart, and Klimt readily embraced his conventional training. Klimt's early works could be classified as academic. In 1877, his brother Ernst, who had followed in his father's footsteps as an engraver, also enrolled at the school. The two brothers worked together with their friend Franz Matsch, and in 1880, under the group "Company of Artists", and they were commissioned to undertake numerous assignments and help their teacher create murals for the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna. Klimt launched his career by creating interior frescoes and painting the ceilings of large public buildings, including the successful series Allegories and Emblems.


For his contribution to the frescoes of the Vienna Court Theatre, Klimt was awarded the Order of Gold by Emperor Franz Josef I in 1880, and he was made an honorary member of the universities of Munich and Vienna. When Klimt's father and brother Ernst both passed away in 1892, Klimt was left in charge of supporting his father's and brother's family financially. In the early 1890s, Klimt met Emilie Louise Flöge, who became Klimt's lifelong companion despite his entanglement with other women. Whether or not his relationship with Flöge was physical remains a matter of debate, but Klimt had at least fourteen children during that period.


The Vienna Secession

In 1897, Klimt and others founded the Vienna Secession, and Klimt became president of its journal, Ver Sacrum, where he remained until 1908. Klimt remained with the Secession until 1908. The Vienna Secession's objectives were to create its own journal to highlight the work of its members, bring the greatest paintings from outside to Vienna, and provide new, unconventional artists a platform to be published. Through a number of shows, the Secession swiftly became a recognized force in the city's creative community, with Klimt playing a significant organizing role. Given that the Viennese had little to no exposure to modern art, the shows drew widespread popular acclaim and remarkably little controversy. Due to a disagreement about the group's use of regional galleries—which were not particularly strong in Vienna—to sell their artwork, Klimt and several of his companions left the Vienna Secession in 1905.


Late Life and Death

Klimt's style and career reached their peak between 1898 and 1908. Many of his most famous works were created during this period, which was called his "Golden Phase", because of his use of the gold leaf. Paintings from this period include Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I (1907) and The Kiss (1907–08). Even though Klimt did not change his subjects throughout his later years, his painting style greatly changed. The artist started employing delicate color mixes, such as lilac, coral, and yellow, and mostly abandoned the use of gold and silver leaf as well as adornment in general. During this period, Klimt also created an astounding quantity of sketches and studies that featured naked women, some of which were so pornographic that they are still rarely seen today.


Klimt died of Spanish flu in 1918.


Klimt emphasized his personal aesthetic interest, emotional expression and imaginative creation. His works are philosophical in the content of Symbolist painting, but at the same time have an oriental decorative interest. He focused on the proportional division of space, line expressiveness, and the formalist design style. His asymmetrical composition, decorative patterned shape, heavy color and line drawing style, golden tone, potential mysticism in symbolism, a strong sense of flatness, and rich and radiant decorative effect make the picture pervaded with a strong personality, which has a great and far-reaching influence on painting art and poster design. Klimt's work enhanced the artistic taste and value of posters and made him famous worldwide. Another characteristic of Klimt's paintings is that most of the main characters are women, and the themes are "love", "sex", "life" and "death".


Representative Works

Goldfish

On the rectangular painting are placed nude women in different moods, appearing and disappearing, and the flowing curves and bright nudes make the picture full of life.

The artist cleverly used different curve changes and color blocks to form a pattern-like picture, with realistic decoration and abstraction mixed with figurative, a unique painting style.


The Three Ages of Woman

The artist used symbolic techniques to condense the three stages of a woman's life - early childhood, youth and old age - into one painting, an irreversible trilogy of life that expresses the artist's sentimentality towards fate.

Klimt specialized in figurative realism in portraying the figure while decorating the environment and clothing with motifs to achieve an aesthetic of variety and harmony. In this painting, the composition resembles a cross, with a large black color above it, which may imply the horror of death and express the artist's concept of life and death.


Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I

Klimt, who had many years of academic art education and training in the arts and crafts, gave full play to realistic and decorative styles, combining both figurative and abstract expressions seamlessly.

The image is decorated with a golden background, and the elegant figures are wrapped in a variety of golden patterns and ornaments, giving the whole image a noble and gorgeous appearance.


Danaë

Danaë was the daughter of King Acrisius of Hercules in Greek mythology. The subject has been painted by masters such as Titian and Rembrandt, and the image of Danaë has varied from era to era and from painter to painter, but Klimt's image of a nude woman huddled in a square surrounded by various motifs was unusual in that he depicted a voluptuous, sensual and seductive nude woman in a realistic manner that reflected the subconscious repression and desire of the modern aesthetic.


Judith II (Salome)

Judith II (Salome) was based on a biblical story: on the birthday of the Jewish King Herod, his niece Salome danced for him to celebrate his birthday. The image of Salome is placed in a long composition, surrounded by two sharp curved lines, with her naked breasts protruding from her upper body, full of sultry sensuality, while her stiff hands present a terrible murderous aura, and her beautiful face implies remorse, which is an artistic image with complex contradictions. Half of John's head is hidden in the lower part of the picture.

The artist depicted Salome's cold face and bare chest and shoulders in a realistic form, while the rest of the picture is filled with patterns of various shapes and colors. In this decorative painting lurks a mournful impact, intertwined with the sentimentality of love and the contradiction of life and death. Sultry, death and fantasy fill this decorative space.

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