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Wednesday, 20 July 2016

Painting of the Month (63), July 2016: Gustav Klimt

The Kiss, Gustav Klimt, 1907-8, Ã–sterreichische Galerie, Vienna
 In the opening decade of the twentieth century Klimt had been vilified for his work, Philosophy, Medicine and Jurisprudencewhich he had painted on the ceiling of the University of Vienna. It was derided as “pornographic” and “perverted excess” for it’s nude images. It was, of course, none of those things, especially by today’s standards. His reputation had been damaged and his career was in a downward spiral.
He painted The Kiss in 1907-08 and it was a huge success being sold before it was even finished for a fee much higher than the previous record for an Austrian painting. It is now, beyond any doubt, one of the most iconic and well-known pictures in the world. It’s a huge square painting measuring 1.8 metres, or 6 feet, along each side, although it is often truncated to a rectangle for marketing purposes.
Gustav Klimt was an Austrian Symbolist painter born in 1862 in Vienna. Symbolism is the expression of an idea over a realistic description or depiction of the natural world.
Like many great works of art it reflects a collision of artistic styles. The prevailing style of the day was Art Nouveau, characterised by intricate linear designs and flowing curves based on natural forms but the simple form and bold patterns of their cloaks also shows influence of the organic forms of the earlier Arts & Crafts movement.
A few years before creating this beautiful work Klimt had seen the Byzantine mosaics in the San Vitale Church in Ravenna. He was inspired by the use of gold-leaf and the flatness of the paintings and lack of perspective which had the effect of making the gold seem to shimmer and stand-out. He achieved a similar effect by combining gold-leaf and oil paint. Other clear influences were the fin-de-siecle spirit of sensuality and decadence. Also, I think it’s clear that Japanese painting had an influence.


Hels said...

I have always loved The Kiss and other female portraits, partially because of the flowing organic art nouveau-ish lines and partially because of the Byzantine-ish mosaics.

But I worry about Klimt seducing his models, even though the husbands knew of the artist's behaviour and absented themselves from the house. I am assuming the husbands thought that Klimt was the best portrait painter in all of Vienna, and the seduction was the price of doing business.

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Bazza - wonderful work to show us ... Klimt's work is incredible ... so it's good to see you've described how he created some of his work ... and perhaps the influences.

I know of his work ... but was further introduced by the film 'Adele's Wish' ... that gave an insight into that time. I've never been to Vienna ... one day ...

I have to check something else that was influenced in Eastbourne by those Byzantine mosaics in Ravenna ...

Fascinating work ... I'm delighted to read more .. cheers Hilary

bazza said...

Hello Hels. Some analysts believe that he has painted a self-portrait with various of his models being suggested. I think if we knew the details of the private lives of many famous people we might have a different view of them. For example, I find it difficult to think in any positive way about Wagner. However, where possible, I feel we have to put these thoughts aside if we are able! In Klimt's photo one can see the look of a lecher I think.....

bazza said...

Hi Hilary. I don't know of that film but I have noted the name now. So Eastbourne has some exotica to examine!
I sometimes feel that the story behind a picture can be as interesting as the work itself.

A Heron's View said...

Hello Bazza!
I have always admired the work of the Impressionists and Klimt in particular. Whenever I look at The Kiss I want to rename it to 'the great melding' because it seems to me that is what he was telling us, that this was no passing kiss, rather it was the merging of two identities into a united third.

In regards to your comment to Hels: I rather believe that the private lives of the famous need to stay private. For I have often seen people comparing the lives of those who have died with today's standards and laws. This in all honesty cannot be done for we have moved on and we have our own burdens to deal with.

David said...

Hi bazza,
I think I first saw this painting when I watched Nic Roeg's film, "Bad Timing", with Art Garfunkel in it. I thought at the time that it was a fascinating movie, and so too the painting. Indeed, I was so taken with Klimt and his Vienna that I later bought some copies of his work (only small, cheap ones!) and displayed them in the hallway of a flat I once rented in Stoke. When a female friend from University came to stay once, I think the erotic charge in his worked slightly offended her feminist sensibilities and I was left pondering whether I should take down the copies for fear of giving the wrong impression of myself. One could, I suppose, say that my friend was just being a little prudish, but what Hels says about Klimt's character makes me think that perhaps she had a point and such things maybe are reflected in his art.
Another fascinating post, bazza! Keep up the good work.
Best Wishes,

bazza said...

Hello 'Heron's View', thanks for visiting. You make a good point about melding; it has also been described as 'lustful', which is hard to argue against!
Regarding your second point, I once wrote something in admiration of Einstein and a (male) commenter said "yes but he treated his women badly" which seemed to me to be quite beside the point.

bazza said...

Hi David. That's two film titles I have now picked up from these comments!
This whole subject of unwanted side effects of works of artists, writers or even scientists is a very interesting question. I'm not sure I know the answer. It might make a useful topic for a later post. Thanks for you comment which, as ever, is very interesting.
I will be visiting you to re-read your latest post soon!

Sherry Ellis said...

I think you may be right about the "other influences." I like that painting. It's intriguing.

bazza said...

Hello Sherry. I agree it's intriguing but I think it's important to know that these works of art don't just come out of nowhere. All painting is influenced in some way by what went before as I have suggested.

John said...

As you say Bazza, most iconic and instantly recognisable. This painting adorns almost everything you can imagine, from coasters to table cloths!

bazza said...

Hi John. If Klimt was still with us he would be earning a fortune in marketing royalties!