Friday, July 30

Gustav Klimt

The Austrian painter and illustrator Gustav Klimt (1862 - 1918) is undoubtedly the most remarkable artist who has emerged from the turn-of-the century Vienna. Klimt's work exemplifies the encounter between the old art of the previous century and the new art of the 20th century.

He dominated the art scene in this capital of the empire of Austo-Hungary. It was the Vienna of Sigmund Freud, Gustav Mahler, Arnold Schönberg and Stefan Zweig, the Vienna of the great waltzes, admired all over the world for its artistic and cultural quality and diversity.

At the age of fourteen he entered the public School of Arts and Crafts of Vienna. For seven years he learned the most diverse techniques, fom mosaics to fresco. Klimt received his first commissions while studying there, works for theatres, churches and museums ordered by several patrons.

From 1886 to 1892, he executed mural decorations for staircases at the Burgtheater and the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna.

The tree of life

In 1892 Klimt and Match were commissioned by the Ministry of Culture and Education to decorate the ceiling of the Great Hall of the new University of Vienna. The sensualism and originality of the allegories "Philosophy", "Medicine" and "Jurisprudence" led to a hostile reaction, provoked widespread controversy and scandals. He was incriminated for "pornography"and "excessive perversion". He never accepted a public commission again.

Three ages of woman

At 35 he was one of the founders of the association of Austrian Visual Artists, widely known as the Secession which had three main aims: provide to young artists with regular opportunities to exhibit their work; to bring to Vienna the best foreign artists and to publish its own monthly magazine, "Ver Sacrum". He withdrew eight years later dismayed by the increasingly strong trend towards naturalism.

Water Snakes II

The primal forces of sexuality, regeneration, love and death form the dominant themes of Klimt's work. His paintings constitute a sublime frontier between traditional and modern, figurative and non-figurative. His immensely erotic portraits and sexually-charged sketches, his figures evoking the gold ground of Byzantine art, his richly patterned landscapes and mysterious allegorical compositions are at once sensous and refined and remain among the most recognized works of art in the world. Today we see in these works the Byzantine luxuriance of form and the vivid juxtaposition of colours derived from the Austrian rococo.

His paintings of "femmes fatales", such as Judith I personify the dark side of sexual attraction. The Kiss, his most known work, celebrates the attraction of the sexes. It's the most important work of his "golden phase". It has been compared to the Mona Lisa, as both exert a similar fascination. The enveloping robe substracts force to the painting's sexual representation, transforming the taboo of the kiss into a version which conquers the public's enthusiasm and the puritanical bourgeoisie's acceptance. Hope I, juxtaposes the promise of new life with the destroying force of death. Danae, a very erotic work depicts the conception of perseus by Zeus.

The Kiss

Klimt also painted landscapes based on the work of the Impresionists, even though he was not interested in time's play of lights and shadows. He found his way to landscape painting late in life, but it was a theme he greatly enjoyed. He did not draw sketches or studies for his landscapes, as he did for his portraits and allegories.

In January 1918, while Klimt was getting dressed, he suffered a stroke which paralysed the right side of his body. Less than a month later, Klimt was struck by pneumonia and died on February 6, 1918.