The Kiss by Gustav Klimt
Episode #8 of the course “Most famous paintings of all time”
Type: oil and gold leaf on canvas
Dimensions: 180 cm × 180 cm (70.9 in × 70.9 in)
Location: Österreichische Galerie Belvedere, Vienna
20th-century Austrian painter Gustav Klimt incorporated brilliant gold leaf into his works in addition to working with abstract patterns. At the height of his “Golden Period” in 1908 and 1909, he painted and exhibited The Kiss (Lovers). Approximately 4 feet wide and 4 feet tall, the modest-sized masterpiece depicts a couple embracing, kneeling on a dazzling bed of flowers. The romantic nature of the work, as well as its extravagant use of gold leaf, continues to leave spectators awed.
Klimt’s previous project, the Vienna Ceiling, had been hailed as obscene, but The Kiss (Lovers) was well-received. The oil painting on canvas centers on a male and a female figure, with the woman embraced in the man’s arms. His head is turned away from the viewer to kiss the woman, whose face is clearly visible. On his head seems to be a wreath, and there are flowers surrounding her face. The rest of his body loses distinct lines, and he melds into the folds of a black and gold square geometric pattern. Parts of her body are visible, giving proportion and frame to the characters under circular flower-like geometric patterns. The two kneel on jewel-toned brilliant circles against a gilded brown-green flat background.
Although Klimt claimed never to have painted a self-portrait, there is some evidence that he and his long-time lover posed for, or served as inspiration for, this famous painting. Klimt was moved by Byzantine and Asian art and attempted to incorporate their intricate mosaic patterns and gold leaf techniques. Seen as controversial at the time, he took the traditional methods used to depict heavenly love and applied them to depicting a moment of erotic human love. The woman’s facial expression of sublime pleasure in such a scene was seen as merely evocative by some, and as sacrilegious by others.
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