As a college student, it is rare to walk into a dorm room without being greeted by an array of posters stuck haphazardly to walls, doors, and even the ceiling at times. Students attempt to share something about themselves to possible new friends by expressing their interests in the form of these decorations. To those who choose fine art as their form of expression, it is often the pop art of Andy Warhol or the impressionistic works of Manet that they choose. On my first visit to the poster sale on the Bryant Center Plaza, I found myself searching through photos of Audrey Hepburn and Bob Marley looking for a work of art that I found would reflect me the best. The poster that I chose to hang above my bed (the place I deemed a most honorable position) was a copy of a painting called "The Kiss." Its use of color and seemingly romantic subject matter seemed to be exactly what I wanted. As the year went on, I came to better appreciate the large, somewhat abstract, golden scene and chose to research more about it and its creator. This is how I came to be interested in Gustav Klimt, a highly controversial, yet ultimately inspiring Austrian painter.
"The Kiss" Klimt, 1908
Gustav Klimt was born in 1862 into poverty in Vienna, Austria as the son a goldsmith. Klimt began his artistic career by studying at the Kunstgewerbeschule (The State School of Applied Arts) in Vienna. He was soon commissioned to work on multiple interior murals and ceilings . However, after this period of academic work, Klimt began to come into his own style and, following a commission by the Vienna University, for which he painted what was called "fantastical decorative imagery", he received harsh criticism for his explicit taste. Klimt became well-know for his erotic and sensual themes and for his fascination with the female nude. While today his works are cherished, at the time his style was seen as crude. This criticism and public disdain led him and multiple other Viennese artists’ formation of the Vienna Secession in 1879. He led this group of unconventional artists for multiple years before he left the group in 1905. The drawing below is a study drawing of a young woman. His drawings were often very sensual and at times somewhat graphic, including women sprawled in erotic positions. He exhibited an uninhibited demeanor around his models and was even know to have conceived children with two of them. This study drawing is only one example of the multitude of studies he did of the female nude.
Two Studies of a Seated Nude With Long Hair Gustav Klimt, 1901-1902
Klimt gathered critical and financial success later from his "Golden Phase" where he would enhance jewel-toned pallets with gold leaf, mother of pearl, and bits of actual jewelry. Klimt's works during this time recall Byzantine imagery, which often included a gold leaf background in paintings. The work below is one of his most well know works from this time period called "Adele Bloch Bauer I". Though some argue that it is more well know because of the controversy behind its ownership rather than its artistic qualities, it is still a prime example of his work during this time. This painting is done in the Jungendstil, or Art Nuveau, style using elaborate ornamentation and complex detailing. You can see this in the hieroglyphics in her skirt and the use exclusive use of earthy gold and jewel tones. Reflecting the success and current popularity of Klimt today, this painting sold in auction for $135 Million in 2006. Klimt is now know as one of the great modern artists. His works can be seen anywhere from post cards to dorm room walls and are still a sight to behold.
Adele Bloch-Bauer I, Klimt 1907
Klimt, Gustav, Gustav Klimt : painting, design and modern life, London:Tate; New York: Distributed in the U.S. by Harry N Abrams, 2008, Print
Developments in the 19th Century:Gustav Klimt, http://www.all-art.org/symbolism/klimt1.html
Landscapes: Gustav Klimt Biography, Sterling and Francince Clark Art Institute http://www.clarkart.edu/exhibitions/klimt/klimt/bio.cfm