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Klimt, Gustav (1862 - 1918)

The painter Gustav Klimt was born on 14th July 1862 in Baumgarten, a part of today's 14th district in Vienna. He is considered the main figure of Austria’s Art Nouveau.
»I know only one thing for certain – that I’m a poor fool.« Gustav Klimt     

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.

Gustav Klimt Memorial Society Auhofstrasse 43 1130 Vienna


His artwork

  • Beethovenfries Klimt © Österreich Werbung - Trumler Beethovenfries Klimt © Österreich Werbung - Trumler
  • Paar vor Klimt im MuseumsQuartier © MuseumsQuartier Paar vor Klimt im MuseumsQuartier © MuseumsQuartier
  • Klimt "The Kiss" © Osterreich Werbung, Bartl Klimt "The Kiss" © Osterreich Werbung, Bartl
  • Klimt-Set © Österreich Werbung Klimt-Set © Österreich Werbung
  • Gustav Klimt Zentrum am Attersee © Gustav Klimt Zentrum am Attersee ©
  • Beethovenfries, Vienna Secession © Österreich Werbung/Trumler Beethovenfries, Vienna Secession © Österreich Werbung/Trumler

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