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Home / Great Artists / K / Gustav Klimt / Biography
Biography Gustav Klimt

Gustav Klimt Biography


1862-1918

Austrian Secession Painter

Gustav Klimt (July 14, 1862 - February 6, 1918) was an Austrian Symbolist painter and one of the most prominent members of the Vienna Art Nouveau (Vienna Secession) movement. His major works include paintings, murals, sketches and other art objects, many of which are on display in the Vienna Secession gallery. Klimt's primary subject is the female body, and his works are marked by a frank eroticism. His pencil drawings, which are very numerous, have been regarded by many as his greatest legacy.

Life and art
Gustav Klimt was born in Baumgarten, near Vienna, Austria, the second of seven children. His father (Ernst Klimt) was an engraver and was married to Anna Klimt (nee Finster). He lived in poverty for most of his childhood.

He was educated at the Vienna School of Arts and Crafts (Kunstgewerbeschule) in the years 1879-1883, and received training as an architectural decorator. He began his professional career painting interior murals in large public buildings on the Ringstrace. Klimt was also an honorary member of the Universities of Munich and Vienna.

In 1893 Klimt was commissioned to do three paintings to decorate the ceiling of the Great Hall in the University of Vienna. His three paintings, Philosphy, Medicine and Jurisprudence were criticized for their radical themes and 'pornographic' material resulting in their not being displayed on the ceiling of the great Hall. All three paintings were eventually destroyed by retreating SS forces in May 1945. This would also be the last time Klimt accepted any public commissions to do work.

His work is distinguished by the elegant gold or coloured decoration, often phallic in shape that conceals the more erotic positions of the drawings he based many of his paintings on. This can be seen in Judith I (1901), and in The Kiss (1907-1908), and especially in Danae (1907). Art historians note an eclectic range of influences contributing to Klimt's distinct style, including Egyptian, Minoan, Classical Greek, and Byzantine inspirations. Klimt was also inspired by the engravings of Albrecht Durer, late medieval European painting, and Japanese Ukiyo-e. His works are also characterized by a rejection of earlier naturalistic styles, and the use of symbols or symbolic elements to convey psychological ideas and emphasize the "freedom" of art from traditional culture.

Klimt was one of the founding members of the Wiener Sezession (Vienna Secession) and of the periodical Ver Sacrum. He left the movement in 1908.

Klimt took annual summer holidays on the shores of Attersee and painted some of the landscapes he saw there.

He died in Vienna on February 6, 1918 of a stroke and was interred at the Hietzing Cemetery, Vienna. Numerous paintings were left unfinished.

Klimt has the distinction of being the artist with the highest selling price on a painting. Purchased for the Neue Galerie in New York by Ronald Lauder for a reported US $135 million, the 1907 portrait "Adele Bloch-Bauer I" deposed Picasso's 1905 "Boy With a Pipe" (sold May 5, 2004 for $104 million) on or around June 19, 2006.