Episode #4 of the course “Prominent artists of Modern Art”
Born in Austria in 1862, Gustav Klimt showed artistic talent early, inspired by a father who was a gold engraver. He became most well-known for his expression of the female form, and his work is both highly erotic and symbolic. A student of architectural painting at the Vienna School of Arts and Crafts (where his two brothers were enrolled to study engraving), Klimt was also influenced by Japanese art and artistic techniques. In 1883, Klimt launched into a career of receiving commissions for public buildings. He worked with his brothers and friend Franz Matsch, calling themselves “Company of Artists.”
Klimt contributed to murals in the Burgtheater in Vienna, for which he was awarded honors from the Austrian Emperor as well as honorary memberships to the University of Munich and the University of Vienna. After his father and brother’s deaths in 1892, Gustav Klimt’s style changed. Paintings such as Nuda Veritas began to express more politics, to represent more symbols of social tensions. In 1894, Klimt began three paintings for the University of Vienna—Philosophy, Medicine, and Jurisprudence—that sparked outrage; many thought them inappropriately explicit when he finished in 1900. He vowed to take no more public commissions and instead focused on his own art.
He founded and was president of “The Vienna Secession” from 1897 to 1908, publishing a magazine that brought foreign artists to Vienna and showcased them. He also began producing successful art that combined painting with gold leaf, including the Japanese-influenced The Hug and his famous The Kiss, for which he and a long-time friend may have been the models. He claimed, however, to have never painted a self-portrait. A promiscuous man, Klimt had many relationships and may have been the father of at least 14 but as many as 40 children.
With his first exhibit in Rome, Klimt’s success became international. In 1918, he passed away in Vienna during an influenza epidemic. His paintings now sell for some of the highest prices on record, including Adele Bloch-Bauer I, which sold for $135 million in 2006.
Adele Bloch-Bauer I
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