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Klimt, Gustav (1862 - 1918)

Wien Museum Klimt Portrait © Wien Museum

 

»I know only one thing for certain – that I’m a poor fool.« Gustav Klimt

 

 

Talented young Gustav

Gustav Klimt was born on 14 July 1862. He was the second of seven children of a lower-middle-class family, living in the Viennese suburb of Baumgarten (today a part of the 14th district). His childhood coincided with the zenith of the "Gründerzeit", a time of economic prosperity and large-scale construction in Austria. Despite their difficult financial situation, the Klimts enjoyed a harmonious family life with the siblings remaining together throughout their lifetimes. With much sacrifice on the part of the family, the talented young Gustav was sent to Vienna's Kunstgewerbeschule (School of Arts and Crafts) and soon found himself in the midst of a group of artists, working on the decoration of the new Ringstraße buildings.

 

Developing his own style

After years of creating murals and painting ceiling in numerous buildings in Vienna and throughout the entire Austro-Hungarian Empire, Gustav Klimt had grown out of the historicist style of interior decoration. Art in Vienna at the turn of the century was searching for new directions, just as Gustav Klimt was. Under the influence of Symbolism, Asian art and various European art movements he elaborated his unique formal language of two-dimensional, mosaic-like elements, unobstrusive colours and Art-Nouveau ornaments.

In 1897 Klimt became a founding member and the first president of the Vienna Secession, a group of artists striving for a renewal of art. The Secession building, on the city's Karlsplatz, became the exhibition space for the new movement.

His most famous painting "The Kiss" (1907/1908) marked the peak of his "golden phase", a new  creative period characterized by the dominance of ornamentation and the increased use of gold leaf.

 

The painter and the women

 

According to Klimt himself, who never painted self-portraits, he preferred to paint people - “especially women” in mostly erotic forms. In Emilie Flöge, who owned a fashion salon in Vienna, Klimt found a lifelong companion, although he remained unmarried and fathered children with several other women. Flöge also introduced him to Attersee, the lake that inspired some of his most famous landscapes, and where he was to spend nearly every summer.


Famous but humble

Gustav Klimt was always reluctant to talk about himself, referring questioners instead to his works. From his paintings, the viewer "should seek to recognize what I am and what I want.” Despite his success he remained unsure of himself in social settings. He habitually wore a blue painter’s smock, his hair was tousled, and he spoke the dialect of his humble origins.

After three decades of intensive work, numerous triumphs, and fierce hostility from his critics, Gustav Klimt died on 6 February 1918 after suffering a stroke, being fifty-five years old. He is buried in Vienna’s Hietzing Cemetery.
 

 

Photo: Verein Gedenkstätte Gustav Klimt
 

Biographical overview


1862 Born on 14 July in Vienna Baumgarten, Linzer Straße 247

1876-83 Attended the School of Applied Arts of the Austrian Museum for Art and Industry

1879 Worked at the pageant of Hans Makart in honour of the imperial couple’s silver wedding

1883 Establishment of the "Künstlerkompanie" (Artists’ Company): Gustav Klimt and his brother Ernst, as well as Franz Matsch, shared a studio on Sandwirtgasse 8, 6th district, Vienna

1886-91 Works by the Artists’ Company on the frescos of the staircases of the Vienna Burgtheater and on the frescos of the staircases in the Kunsthistorisches Museum (Museum of Fine Art) Vienna

1892 Death of beloved brother Ernst and his father. In the same year moved to his studio in Josefstädterstrasse 21, 8th district, Vienna

1894 Commissioned to paint the faculty paintings for the University of Vienna together with Franz Matsch. Beginning of artistic estrangement between Klimt and Matsch

1897-99 President of the Wiener Secession

1898 From this year on Klimt spends the summer months in the Upper Austrian Salzkammergut (mostly at Lake Attersee). He paints his first landscape paintings

1898 First and second exhibition of the Secession with works by Gustav Klimt

1899 Painting "Schubert at the piano", considered one of his most popular paintings in his lifetime (burned in 1945)

1900 Exhibition of the 1st version of the faculty painting "Philosophy" at the Secession. It leads to an art scandal (the 3 faculty paintings, that are also considered an absolute principal work, are burned in1945)

1902 Portrait of Emilie Flöge. Beginning of a life-long friendship with the fashion parlour owner

1902 14th exhibition of the Secession: Beethoven frieze

1905 Left the "Klimt Group" (Gustav Klimt, Josef Hoffmann, Otto Wagner, Kolo Moser a.o.)

1907/08 Painting of "The Kiss". Considered one of the icons of Viennese Art Nouveau.

1912 "Avenue at the Palace Chamber at Lake Attersee"
"Adele Bloch Bauer II"

1915 "Unterach near Lake Attersee"

1916 "Death and Life", for which Gustav Klimt was awarded first prize in 1911 in Rome at the International Art Show, is reworked on Feldmühlgasse

1917 "Adam and Eva"

1918 Death of Gustav Klimt

 
Gustav Klimt Memorial Society
Auhofstrasse 43
1130 Vienna
office@klimt.at
www.klimt.at