Gustave Klimt

Gustave Klimt (1862-1918)

“Whoever wants to know something about me…ought to look carefully at my paintings
and try and see in them what I am and what I want to do”


Gustave Klimt was a vital force in early twentieth-century art. The artist has won a much deserved place both in the history of art and in the imaginations of art lovers around the world with his visionary and evocatively beautiful paintings.


Gustave Klimt was born in Austria in 1862. The son of a gold engraver, Klimt grew up in poverty with six brothers and sisters in the last years Emperor Franz Joseph’s reign. At age 14 Klimt entered the School of Applied Arts, only to leave in 1883 to help support his family by taking public commissions. From the 1880s to 1890s, Klimt created several contentious murals and other public works, considered scandalous by the traditionalist Viennese art world for their innovative decorative style and often erotic themes.

In 1897, Klimt and 15 other artists broke away from the conservative Viennese Art Academy to found the Vienna Secession, with Klimt as president. The Secession was devoted to encouraging experimental and innovative art and nurturing young talent in order to bring Vienna out of its moribund past and launch it onto the international art scene.

The more personal aspects of Klimt’s life remain obscure. As is evident from his paintings, which often treat subjects such as male-female relationships and the femme fatale, Klimt appears to have been an insatiable lover of women, fathering 14 illegitimate children and having notorious affairs with prominent (and married) society women. The artist passed away from pneumonia and a stroke in 1918.


Klimt’s works are notable for their decorative elements, including the application of gold to the canvas surface and dominating geometric patterns, which bespeaks the artist’s background in the decorative arts. The Byzantine mosaics of Ravenna and Venice are also a decisive stylistic influence. The flat, compressed space in Klimt’s paintings reveals the artist’s interest in the Japanese wood-block prints so popular at the end of the century, as well as the influence of archaic art.

Judith I

Klimt Judith I painting
Judith I, 1907
Oil and gold on canvas, 84 x 42 cm.
Österreichische Galerie, Vienna.

Major Works:

 Danaë Klimt Danae painting

The Kiss Klimt The Kiss painting

Danaë, 1907
Oil and gold on canvas, 77 x 83 cm.
Private collection, Vienna.
Hope II
The Kiss, 1907-08
Oil and gold on canvas,
180 x 180 cm.
Österreichische Galerie,
Klimt Hope II painting
Hope II, 1907-08
Oil, gold, and platinum on canvas, 110.5 x 110.5 cm.
Museum of Modern Art, New York.

To learn more about the lives and works of some of the most compelling artists in the history of art, click on the following links