Gustav Klimt – His Life

Gustav Klimt was born in 1862 in the Viennese suburb of Baumgarten, into a large family. His father was a goldsmith and his two brothers devoted themselves to artistic professions.

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At the age of 14, Gustav Klimt attended the Vienna School of Arts and Crafts. During his education he started together with his brother Ernst Klimt and his friend Franz Matsch with theatre decorations, wall and ceiling paintings in Vienna.

In 1883 Gustav Klimt left the school and moved into his own studio with his brother Ernst and Franz Matsch. Together they form the “Maler-Compagnie” and continue their commissions for wall and ceiling painting. In their work they concentrated on ornamental paintings which they designed as commissioned works for the architects. Their ceiling paintings can still be admired today in the theatre of Fiume, in the Kurhaus and in the Stadttheater in Karlsbad.

They were awarded the Golden Cross of Merit by Emperor Franz Josef especially for their paintings on the walls and ceilings of the Burgtheater in Vienna. In addition to these commissions, Klimt painted portraits in his studio.

Beginning of a new era

1892 his younger brother Ernst dies. This officially ends the cooperation between him and Franz Matsch. About 5 years later, the two artists were commissioned to work together. He produced three paintings for the University of Vienna. He begins with a longer lasting work on his painting “Philosophy“. Klimt’s paintings, however, did not meet the taste of the resident Viennese professors – they regarded his work as pornographic and ugly.

Gustav Klimt moves away more and more from the traditional style of the academies in search of his own style. In 1897, together with 19 other artists, he founded the “Secession”, an association of Austrian visual artists. The Vienna Secession quickly developed into the stronghold of Art Nouveau and became its Austrian epitome and synonym. Until 1899 he was the president of this association. In 1905 he left it due to disagreements within the group.

In 1900 he completed the “Philosophy” for which he was awarded the “Grand Prix” at the Paris World Exhibition. The most National Socialists would later destroy this painting together with his two other university wall paintings (Medicine and Jurisprudence).

Klimt withdraws

Although Gustav Klimt fought for recognition as an artist during his lifetime, he was still partly frowned upon and considered “crazy”. Naked and directly erotic depictions of female bodies are recurring motifs in his paintings. In his day, this was often understood as obscene art and had to endure much public criticism.

In the last 10 years of his life Klimt retired mainly to his studio to devote himself intensively and uninfluenced by public opinion to his painting. He was inspired by nature and most of his landscapes were created during this time.

“Women” continue to be an important theme for him. Klimt had several lovers in his life, yet he did not marry. His longest and most intense friendship was with Emilie Flöge.

On the one hand Klimt can be regarded as an artist with a reserved personality, mainly devoted to his art, surrounded by nature, his cats and his lover at his side. On the other hand he is sociable and meets regularly with artist friends in pubs and salons. On February 6, 1918, Gustav Klimt died of a stroke.


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