Starting as a decorative painter during the Ringstrasse era, Gustav Klimt’s early works include paintings for the stairwells of the Burgtheater and the Kunsthistorisches Museum (Museum of Fine Arts) as well as ceiling frescos at the Vienna University. After breathing arty life into the newly constructed monumental buildings of the Gründerzeit, Klimt was striving for the realization of his own formal language.
When he became head of the association of artists known as Secessionists, he conducted groundbreaking exhibitions in the Secession building, which were accompanied by numerous scandals. Their adversaries objected the Secessionists new approach: “We are not fighting against naked art and not against free art, but against ugly art.” But when Klimt was awarded the Grand Prix for his painting "Philosophy" at the Paris World’s Fair of 1900, he became a celebrity all across Europe and took the wind out of his critic’s sails.
The monumental “Beethoven Frieze”, Klimt’s contribution to the 1902 Secession Exhibition, today has been restored to its original location in the Secession. The painting marked the beginning of his “Golden Phase”, which found its peak with the world-famous “The Kiss” painted in 1907 and 1908, and exhibited in Vienna’s Upper Belvedere Palace.
Klimt was the painter of the upper-class society, whose female members he portrayed throughout his career. For several years the Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I has been ranked as one of the world’s most expensive paintings. Less popular but higher in number, Klimt made some 3.000 drawings, representing an important focus of interest during his entire life.
Apart from the Secession and the Upper Belvedere Palace, Vienna’s Leopold Museum hosts Klimt’s most important works. With 400 specimens, the Wien Museum has the world’s largest collection of Klimt drawings, and the Albertina’s Klimt collection complements the awe-inspiring Viennese treasury of the Jugendstil mastermind.
Those who want to soak up the atmosphere that surrounded Klimt while painting his famous tableaus should consider a visit to the Klimt Villa. His last and only surviving studio, located in Vienna’s Hietzing neighbourhood, will reopen in the late summer of 2012 after extensive renovation. It promises to offer insights into the artist’s working and living environment.