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Gustav Klimt - The Kiss

In 1907 Gustav Klimt began work on The Kiss, the most famous work of his entire oeuvre, as well as the culmination of the European Jugendstil movement.

Klimt The Kiss © Osterreich Werbung, Bartl
For Gustav Klimt, it was normal to work in his studio from early morning until evening without a break, and the year 1907 was no exception. Before long, countless sketches covered the floor. But Klimt complained repeatedly about the difficulties of his work. He wrote in a letter: "Either I am too old, or too nervous, or too stupid - there must be something wrong." Nevertheless, this year was to be one of the most productive of his life. Klimt completed, among other works, the Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I and Hope II, but most importantly he began work on the painting The Kiss, which was to take its place as one of the most famous pictures in the history of art.

The theme of a pair of lovers, united through a kiss, was one that occupied Klimt throughout his career. Variations on this theme can be found early on in his works. Klimt's Beethoven Frieze (1902), reflecting his increased emphasis on ornamentation and the use of gold leaf, represented an important artistic precursor to his most famous painting. The inspiration for his "Golden Phase", which culminated with The Kiss, was presumably provided by a visit to Ravenna during his travels through Italy in 1903, which introduced him to the world of Byzantine mosaics. But Klimt was also influenced by contemporary painters: the abstract, decorative style of the Dutch Symbolist Jan Theodor must be mentioned here, as well as the Belgian Symbolist painter Fernand Khnopff.

There have been numerous attempts to identify the woman portrayed in The Kiss. Those mentioned have included Klimt's life-long partner Emilie Flöge, but also Adele Bloch-Bauer. The subject's well-proportioned facial features reveal a similarity to many of the women that Klimt portrayed, but ultimately they cannot be unequivocally attributed to a particular person.

In the painting a couple is depicted embracing in a field of flowers. The man is bent over the woman, and she - clinging tightly to him - awaits his kiss. In terms of ornamentation, the male figure is characterized by square and rectangular forms, while in the case of the female soft lines and floral patterns are dominant. A golden halo surrounds the couple, but it ends at the bare feet of the female, whose toes are sharply bent and firmly dug into the flower-covered meadow. At the same time, however, the couple seems to have shaken off this last remnant of earthly weight and has been transported into another infinite, almost sacred sphere, reminiscent indeed of the gold background of Byzantine mosaics.

When Klimt presented the painting to the public for the first time, in 1908, it was acquired - still unfinished - directly from the exhibition by the Austrian Gallery. This painting represents the centrepiece of the world's largest collection of works by Gustav Klimt, located in the Austrian Gallery in Vienna's Upper Belvedere Palace.