Trying to challenge and break the norm is one of the common goals of an artist as art is one of the media to deliver critics and that is what Gustav Klimt, the artist of The Kiss, had successfully done during his life as an artist. 

Gustav Klimt is an Austrian painter who is well-known for his paintings, sketches and objects d’art that prominently follows the Vienna Secession movement. It is said that he was influenced by the methods used in Japanese arts

Apart from his many works that showcase figures as the main subjects, there are also landscape paintings that he had done. His works and talent have brought impacts in bringing new perspectives to viewing art and is recognized even after he died in 1918, as the partner of fashion designer Emile Louise Flöge and father of his children.

Life of an Artist: Gustav Klimt - Sheet1
 Photographic portrait of Gustav Klimt ©Josef Anton Trčka

His journey in the arts began in 1876 at the University of Applied Arts Viennacalled Vienna Kunstgewerbeschule back thenwhere he received education in architectural painting. Klimt was a part of a team called the “Company of Artists” alongside his brother and Franz Matsch and by 1880, the team had received numerous commissioned works. He found success in painting architectural decorations, interiors, and ceilings as well as a series of “Allegories and Emblems” in the early phase of his artistic career with the oil on canvas being the prominent material and medium. 

His works and contributions for the Burgtheater in Vienna were recognized by the Emperor of Austria at the time, Emperor Granz Josef I of Austria, who awarded Gustav Klimt the Golden Order of Merit in 1888. He was also raised by the University of Munich and the University of Vienna as their honorary member. His philosophy and style included Nuda Veritas, literally “naked truth”, as a symbolic figure such as in his similarly named work Nuda Veritas (1899) and Palas Athene (1898) and historians noted this inclusion had ignored all political and social problems and denounced the policy of the Habsburgs and Austrian society.

In 1897, Gustav Klimt became the president of the Wiener Sezession or Vienna Secession in which he was also one of the founding members of the movement. Some of the other founding members of the movement are architects and designers such as Koloman Moser, Joseph Maria Olbrich, Josef Hoffmann, and Wilhelm Bernatizk. 

The group presented no manifesto or even encouragement of just a single art style where works of realism, naturalism, and symbolism could be seen coexisting with each other. However, as he developed his own personal style, his works started to receive criticism from different parties such as the ceiling of the University of Vienna’s Great Hall, completed around 1900, which was perceived as pornographic. 

The main subjects of most of his works are the female body such as in his more notable works Judith and the Head of Holofemes, Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I, and Danaë. Among his work in the Great Hall of the University of Vienna that were heavily criticized at the time were Philosophy, Medicine, and Jurisprudence which all three of them could be seen as having both a blurry, radical meaning or no meaning at all. His paintings were later removed from the ceiling of the Great Hall. That commissioned work at the Great Hall was the last that the artist had accepted.

Life of an Artist: Gustav Klimt - Sheet2
Jurisprudence (1900-1907). Courtesy of ©Gustav Klimt

Gustav Klimt’s paintings were marked at some of the highest prices ever recorded such as his Landhaus am Attersee was sold for $29,128,000 back in late 2013. Despite Klimt being a very controversial artist during his time, writer Frank Whitford commented that he’s insignificant in terms of the history of art and that his journey in art is really just a “cul-de-sac”. 

However, the effect and influence of his works could be seen in today’s works such as in the video game, Transistor, which incorporates embellishments and patterns inspired by Gustav Klimt. The tech giant Google also commemorated his 150th birthday with a Google doodle back on 14 July 2012. His works started becoming the subject of research from several institutions in 1963, in which one of the institutions, Albertina Vienna, has examined and classified over 4300 of Gustav Klimt’s works for more than half a century. 

His works became the subject of psychological inquiry. His works broke away from the conventional artistic forms especially the prominent ones during his era. With his highly expressive style, his works could bring deep meaning that could reflect not just his thoughts but also the society especially the one he was living in such as his Jurisprudence painting that seemingly showcased decapitated juries.

Contrary to Whitford’s commentary, Gustav Klimt could be seen as an important figure in the history of the arts where if he isn’t, he wouldn’t be raised as the president of the Vienna Secession movement, and better yet his works would not be commemorated or sought after and examined by many parties especially art institutions. His works, although controversial even today, bring to open a new perspective towards arts and had influenced many other artists during his time and those that came after him including Ergon Schiele.


Aiman Zafran is a Malaysian architectural assistant who graduated with BA (Hons) Architecture from the Manchester School of Architecture. With interests in computational design, technology & psychology, he’s always curious about how far we could stretch the limits of architecture & improve the lives of people. For him, thinking through words is as useful as drawings when it comes to understanding architecture.

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