Gustav Klimt klimt artist - Photograph of klimt adele - klimt paintings 1918 work frieze klimt's bauer bloch 1911 beethoven - Image via Moritz Nähr

Gustav Klimt

Austria 1862 - 1918

Symbolism, Art Nouveau

Gustav Klimt
Gustav Klimt
September 22, 2016
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Certainly one of the most iconic names appearing in the last two centuries of art, Gustav Klimt was an Austrian painter who was a representative of Symbolism and a leading member of the Vienna Secession movement. He had a wide range of artistic fields in which he was active, but Klimt is mostly noted for the influence provided by his paintings, murals and collages. Every piece Gustav ever produced was underlined by the note of eroticism as this man believed that all true art is erotic to some extent. Besides his figurative works of portraits and allegories, Klimt also painted a fair number of landscapes[1] in his time, yet again proving both his talent and creative versatility. Interestingly enough, whilst other members of the Vienna Secession movement were seeking inspiration mostly from Austria and other prominent countries of the Old Continent, Gustav would regularly look for artistic guides on the far East.

Klimt made portrait paintings in 1862, 1899, 1911 and 1918 - this work of painting is klimt's early gold period, and was the creative death that inspired beethoven to make the Bauer Bloch for Klimt Gustav - klimt painted the Kiss for Adele
Gustav Klimt – Klimt’s Collages – Images via

Arrival to Vienna

Gustav Klimt was born in Baumgarten, a region of the extinct empire of Austria-Hungary very close to Vienna. He was the second of seven children that counted three boys and four daughters. The head of a family was Ernst Klimt the Elder and he held employment as a gold engraver – a fact that will heavily impact Gustav’s future line of work. It’s interesting that all three boys of the Klimt family – Gustav, Ernst and Georg – showed artistic tendencies early on in their lives. In the year of 1883, Klimt started attending the Vienna School of Arts and Crafts (Kunstgewerbeschule), where he learned how to design architectural planning. Despite living in poverty, Klimt enjoyed life in Vienna due to city’s rich artistic scene. He was especially attracted to the pieces of Hans Makart, an Austrian academic history painter, designer and decorator held in high regard by most art pundits of Austria. Because of the academic approach with which he was presented with at Kunstgewerbeschule, it comes as no surprise that Gustav accepted the principles of a conservative training. His brother, Ernst, joined him at the Academy in 1977. After that, the two brothers and their friend, Franz Matsch, began working together, offering different commissions ranging from architectural endeavors to portrait painting. This trio called themselves the Company of Artists and these efforts helped Klimt to acquire a stellar reputation for himself as he became a respected young thinker with loads of potential. Gustav began his professional career independent from the Company by painting interior murals and ceilings in large public buildings on the Ringstraße[2], highlighted by the series titled as Allegories and Emblems. In 1888, Klimt finished his murals in the Burgtheater in Vienna and was handed the Golden Order of Merit from Emperor Franz Josef I of Austria for his contributions. Furthermore, Gustav was also named an honorary member of the University of Munich and the University of Vienna. These great circumstances took a sudden turn for the worst, unfortunately, when Klimt’s father and brother Ernst both died in 1892. His artistic development was put to a cease due to new responsibilities of financial support his family needed, whilst Gustav’s inner life and creativity were traumatized by a sudden loss of two very dear persons. After these events, his artistic vision will never be the same again.

In 1911 and 1918, Klimt's homage opera of Frieze by Beethoven blew Vienna university away, as frieze was all klimt's masterworks in one - klimt painted the Kiss in 1905, a women depiction of adele stoclet
Gustav Klimt – The Tree of Life, 1905 – Image via

A Hard Rise to the Top

A valid indication of what style Gustav held true to at the end of the 19th century is Nuda Veritas (Nude Truth). This symbolic figure appeared in many of his works, such as Ancient Greece and Egypt (1891), Pallas Athene (1898) and Nuda Veritas (1899). Some critics and experts believe that Klimt proved with his Nuda Veritas that he abandoned the artistic policy of the Habsburgs and the Austrian society, denouncing some of the most notable rules and notions he learned at the Kunstgewerbeschule. Soon after he started to accept the fact his father and brother are not coming back, Gustav began a romantic relationship with a sibling of his sister-in-law, Emilie Louise Flöge. The two will spend the rest of their lives together and Klimt’s The Kiss (1907–08) is believed to depict the two lovers. Additionally, Gustav designed many costumes that Emilie Louise Flöge produced and modeled in. Gustav’s appreciation of such costumes is evidenced by five canvases of society women wrapped in fur, painted between the years of 1907 and 1909.

Since the forming year of 1897, Klimt was one of the founding members and president of the Wiener Sezession (Vienna Secession). Gustav was one of the most prominent representatives of Secession and remained with the movement until 1908. The main goal of the Wiener Sezession was to provide exhibitions for unconventional young artists who desired to create outside of the traditional borders. They also put a lot of effort to introducing foreign works to the Vienna’s scene. Despite not having a genuine manifest, Wiener Sezession had its own magazine to showcase the artworks of members which served that role to some extent. This group held no allegiance to any one particular style, instead allowing all the Naturalists, Realists and Symbolists to function together and extend their vocabularies in different directions. It was in these unbiased circumstances that Klimt created his Secessionist pieces. By following no strict guideline, Gustav transformed traditional allegory and symbolism into a new language that was more overtly sexual and hence more disturbing to some.[3] As a reaction to such works, both the public and experts wanted to ban his art, fearing that they are capable of hurting the conventional aesthetics and endanger religious roots of the society. Some attacks on Klimt’s pieces were successful and some were not, but the constant pressure eventually had its toll on Gustav who did not accept another commission after the censured completion of the Great Hall in Vienna.

A sexual note was always present in Gustav’s paintings, sometimes very strong and straightforward, sometimes rather subtle and indirect

Gustav's new painting from 1862 of Bauer Bloch was an early death of academic art - klimt portrait titled Life was if Bauer Bloch, whilst the Kiss was the 1905 depiction of the women called adele stoclet
Gustav Klimt – Water Serpents – Image via

The Golden Phase

Unlike his previous works which proved to be a heaven of censorship and confrontation, Klimt’s Golden Phase was met with a positive critical reaction and was a financial success. This chapter of his career was marked by paintings which included gold leafs – this was not the first time Gustav used this material, however, as he utilized it on both the Pallas Athene (1898) and Judith I (1901). Although the aforementioned Japanise art was a constant source of inspiration for him, Klimt’s Golden Phase was strongly influenced by the Byzantine imagery with which he was introduced during his trips to Venice and Ravenna. He yet again felt the urge to reconstruct and transform something traditional, making it into something new, erotic and modern. In 1904, he cooperated with other painters on the lavish Palais Stoclet, the home of a wealthy Belgian manufacturer that was one of the grandest monuments Art Nouveau age had ever seen[4]. His later life was marked by Gustav’s personality that preferred isolation – he avoided public places and seldom socialized with other artists who he did not consider to be close friends. For that reason, anyone interested in hiring Klimt was forced to go right to his doorstep and, in all probability, wait in a line. It should also be noted that he was very active sexually – which does not come as a great surprise when you analyze his work and consider the fact he had at least fourteen children in his time. However, he kept his affairs discreet and avoided personal scandals despite such a lifestyle. Klimt died in Vienna on February 6, 1918, having suffered a stroke and pneumonia due to the worldwide influenza epidemic that was sweeping lives across Europe at the time. Unfortunately, many of his pieces were left unfinished due to his sudden and untimely death.

The Golden Phase of Klimt’s career is often regarded as the artist’s most successful and productive period

Years of 1899 and 1898 were the golden age for portrait work paintings - klimt's paintings from the frieze series are best works of klimt
Gustav Klimt – Adele Bloch-Bauer I (detail), 1907 – Image via

A Man of Few Words

Gustav Klimt’s life was marked by a strong tendency towards simplicity. When he was not answering the call of a commission, Gustav could always be found in his home, either working or relaxing, never taking off his iconic sandals and a long robe with no undergarments. His isolated existence was perfectly balanced between his beloved family and art creation, underlined by Klimt’s success to never give more grounds to either of the two. Ultimately, it should be noted that surprisingly not much is known about Klimt’s vision as an artist. He kept no diary and wrote no book on the subject, leaving the only indications of how he used to think in his postcards sent to Flöge.

Since he did not devote too much of his time to this field, probably the best possible way of ending this short biography is to quote one of Klimt’s rare written words, found in an essay called Commentary on a non-existent self-portrait. In it, Gustav stated the following thought: I have never painted a self-portrait. I am less interested in myself as a subject for a painting than I am in other people, above all women… There is nothing special about me. I am a painter who paints day after day from morning to night… Whoever wants to know something about me… ought to look carefully at my pictures.


  1. Koja, S., Gustav Klimt Landscapes, Prestel, 2002
  2. Collins, J., Klimt: Modernism In The Making, Harry N. Abrams, July 14, 2001
  3. Wagner, A., Klimt’s Landscapes and the Telescope, Prestel, 2002
  4. di Stefano, A., Gustav Klimt: Art Nouveau Visionary, Sterling, 2008

Featured image: Gustav Klimt – Photograph of the artist, 1907 – Image via Moritz Nähr
All images used for illustrative purposes only.

YearExhibition TitleGallery/MuseumSolo/Group
2016Seeing Nature: Landscape Masterworks from the Paul G. Allen Family CollectionThe Minneapolis Institute of Arts, Minneapolis, MN Group
2016Unfinished: Thoughts Left VisibleMet Breuer, New York City, NY Group
2016Klimt, Kupka, Picasso und andereBelvedere, Vienna Group
2016Körper, Psyche & Tabu. Wiener Aktionismus & die frühe Wiener ModerneMuseum Moderner Kunst Stiftung Ludwig (MUMOK), Vienna Group
2016Seeing Nature: Landscape Masterworks from the Paul G. Allen Family CollectionThe Phillips Collection, Washington, DC Group
2016Painting the Modern Garden: Monet to MatisseRoyal Academy of Arts, London Group
2015Gustav Klimt and Adele Bloch-Bauer: The Woman in GoldNeue Galerie New York, New York City, NY 1992Solo
2015Marvellous Creators Of Dreams IINational Gallery Prague, Veletržní Palace, Prague Group
2015Klimt-Schiele-Kokoschka und die FrauenBelvedere, Vienna Group
2015Naked Truth: Approaches to the Body in Early-Twentieth-Century German and Austrian ArtMiddlebury College Museum of Art, Middlebury, VT Group
2015Recent Acquisitions (And Some Thoughts on the Current Art Market)Galerie St. Etienne, New York City, NY Group
2015Disegni del NovecentoGalleria Benappi, Turin Group
2015Artists And PoetsWiener Secession, Vienna Group
2015Sleepless: The Bed in history and contemporary Art21er Haus, Vienna Group
2014Klimt, Alle origini di un mitoPalazzo Reale, Milan 1992Solo
2014Klimt, Schiele, Kokoschka. Die Verführung der LinieGraphikmuseum Pablo Picasso Münster, Münster Group
2014Marks of Genius: 100 Extraordinary Drawings from the Minneapolis Institute of ArtsGrand Rapids Art Museum, Grand Rapids, MI Group
2014Recent Acquisitions (And Some Thoughts On The Current Art Market)Galerie St. Etienne, New York City, NY Group
2014And Yet There Was Art!Leopold Museum, Vienna Group
2014Posters of the Vienna Secession, 1898-1918Neue Galerie New York, New York City, NY Group
2013Wien Berlin. Kunst Zweier MetropolenBerlinische Galerie, Berlin Group
2013And Some Thoughts on the Current Art MarketGalerie St. Etienne, New York City, NY Group
2013A.E.I.O.U. Österreichische Aspekte in der Sammlung WürthMuseum Würth, Künzelsau Group
2013Mythos Und Geheimnis. Der Symbolismus Und Die Schweizer KünstlerKunstmuseum Bern, Bern Group
2013Face TimeGalerie St. Etienne, New York City, NY Group
2013Österreichische Kunst des 20. und 21. JahrhundertGalerie Kovacek & Zetter, Vienna Group
2013CloudsWorld of the Ephemeral (Wolken Welt des Fluechtigen), Leopold Museum, Vienna Group
2013Master DrawingsMireille Mosler Ltd., New York City, NY Group
2012Klimt's Golden Rider and Vienna 1903Aichi Prefectural Museum of Art, Nagoya Solo
2012Klimt GustavGallery Zlati Ajngel, Varaždin Solo
2012150 Jahre Gustav KlimtAtelier Hofinger, Innsbruck Solo
2012Anniversary ExhibitionBelvedere, Vienna Solo
2012Ohne KlimtKünstlerhaus Wien, Vienna Solo
2012Gustav Klimt: The Magic of LineThe Getty Center, Los Angeles, CA Solo
2012Gustav Klimt: 150th Anniversary CelebrationNeue Galerie New York, New York City, NY Solo
2012Gustav KlimtMuseo Correr, Venice Solo
2012Gustav Klimt: Erwartung Und ErfÜllungMuseum für angewandte Kunst (MAK), Vienna Solo
2012KLIMT, ZEICHNUNGENAlbertina, Vienna Solo
2012Gustav KlimtLeopold Museum, Vienna Solo
2012Gustav KlimtKunsthistorisches Museum Wien, Vienna Solo
2012Winter SelectionShepherd & Derom Galleries, New York City, NY Group
2012Der Nackte MannLentos Kunstmuseum Linz, Linz Group
2012Japans Einfluss auf die Kunst der ModerneKurpfälzisches Museum der Stadt Heidelberg, Heidelberg Group
2012And Some Thoughts on the Current Art MarketGalerie St. Etienne, New York City, NY Group
2012Paper BandJason McCoy Gallery, New York City, NY Group
2011Gustav Klimt, Josef Hoffmann: Pioniere der ModerneBelvedere, Vienna Solo
2011Pioniere der ModerneAugarten Contemporary, Vienna Group
2011The Excitement ContinuesLeopold Museum, Vienna Group
2011The Lady and the TrampGalerie St. Etienne, New York City, NY Group
2011Night Scented Stock, Curated By Todd LevinMarianne Boesky Gallery, New York City, NY Group
2011Night Scented StockMarianne Boesky Gallery, New York City, NY Group
2011Selections From The Permanent CollectionNeue Galerie New York, New York City, NY Group
2011Recent AcquisitionsGalerie St. Etienne, New York City, NY Group
2011Past & PresentPink Gallery, Seoul Group
2011Spirit of an Age: Drawings from the Germanic World, 1770–1900The Getty Center, Los Angeles, CA Group
2011Von Engeln & BengelnKunsthalle Krems, Krems Group
2011Vienna 1900: Style and IdentityNeue Galerie New York, New York City, NY Group
2010Nuda Veritas. Gustav Klimt and the Origins of the Vienna Secession 1895–1905Museum of Fine Arts, Budapest, Budapest Solo
2010Lust und Laster. Die 7 Todsünden von Dürer bis NaumannKunstmuseum Bern, Bern Group
2010Women as Muse, 1900-1950Herakleidon Museum, Athens Group
2010Recent AcquisitionsGalerie St. Etienne, New York City, NY Group
2010Egon Schiele e il suo tempoPalazzo Reale, Milan Group
2010YOU NEVER KNOW WHAT WILL HAPPEN NEXT... Die Sammlung 1900-2010Lentos Kunstmuseum Linz, Linz Group
2009Klimt, Schiele and Viennese ArtSuntory Museum, Osaka Group
2009From Klimt to Klee: Masterworks from the Serge Sabarsky CollectionNeue Galerie New York, New York City, NY Group
2009What a wonderful worldToyota Municipal Museum of Art, Toyota Aichi Group
2009British Subjects: Identity & Self-fashioning 1967-2009Neuberger Museum of Art, Purchase, NY Group
2009Sehnsucht nach dem Abbild. Das Porträt im Wandel der ZeitKunsthalle Krems, Krems Group
2009Selections From The Permanent CollectionNeue Galerie New York, New York City, NY Group
2009Farbe und Licht Highlights aus der SammlungMuseum der Moderne Salzburg Rupertinum, Salzburg Group
2009Collection Exhibition Second TermToyota Municipal Museum of Art, Toyota Aichi Group
2009formuliert. Konvergenzen von Schrift und BildLentos Kunstmuseum Linz, Linz Group
2009Kreuzungspunkte Linz. Junge Kunst und MeisterwerkeLentos Kunstmuseum Linz, Linz Group
2009SensaiResidenzgalerie Salzburg, Salzburg Group
2009Die Macht des OrnamentsBelvedere, Vienna Group
2008Gustav Klimt und die Kunstschau 1908Belvedere, Vienna Solo
2008Gustav Klimt und die Kunstschau 1908Augarten Contemporary, Vienna Solo
2008Gustav Klimt: Painting, Design and Modern Life in Vienna 1900Tate Liverpool, Liverpool Solo
2008Other People: Portraits From Grunwald And Hammer CollectionsUCLA Hammer Museum, Los Angeles, CA Group
2008Dorotheum comes to MoscowStella Art Foundation, Moscow Group
2008Inner LightToyota Municipal Museum of Art, Toyota Aichi Group
2008From Manet to Miró: Modern Drawings from the Abello CollectionSouthern Methodist University, Dallas, TX Group
2008Recent AcquisitionsGalerie St. Etienne, New York City, NY Group
2008Kunst im Spiegel der Zeitenwende. Malerei, Grafik, Skulptur und Fotografie um 1900Museum der Moderne Salzburg Rupertinum, Salzburg Group
2008Transforming RealityGalerie St. Etienne, New York City, NY Group
2007Klimt - Le tre età. Installazione multimedialeRaccolta Manzù di Ardea, Ardea Solo
2007Gustav Klimt: The Ronald S. Lauder and Serge Sabarsky CollectionsNeue Galerie New York, New York City, NY Solo
2007Gustav Klimt : zum 145. GeburtstagKaethe Zwach Galerie, Schörfling Solo
2007Inner LightToyota Municipal Museum of Art, Toyota Aichi Group
2007All the More Real: Portrayals of Intimacy and EmpathyParrish Art Museum, Southampton, NY Group
2007Expressionism: German and Austrian Works on Paper from the Permanent CollectionDallas Museum of Art, Dallas, TX Group
2007Der Symbolismus und die Kunst der GegenwartVon der Heydt Museum, Wuppertal Group
2007Gustav Klimt und die Künstler-CompagnieBelvedere, Vienna Group
2007The Mirror and the MaskKimbell Art Museum, Fort Worth, TX Group
2007Recent AcquisitionsGalerie St. Etienne, New York City, NY Group
2007Skulptur ohne Eigenschaften Hommage an Fritz WotrubaKunsthaus Zug, Zug Group
2007TemptationsThe Columns, Seoul Group
2007Who Paid the Piper?Galerie St. Etienne, New York City, NY Group
2007Fondation Beyeler: EROS in der Kunst der ModerneBank Austria Kunstforum, Vienna Group
2007Il Simbolismo. Da Moreau a Gauguin a KlimtPalazzo dei Diamanti, Ferrara, FE Group
2006Gustav Klimt: JuditaGalerie výtvarného umění v Ostravě, Dum umeni, Ostrava Solo
2006Gustav KlimtFundación Juan March, Madrid Solo
2006Gustav KlimtLos Angeles County Museum of Art, Los Angeles, CA Solo
2006Black, Black & White, WhiteLeonard Hutton Galleries, New York City, NY Group
2006EROS in der Kunst der ModerneFondation Beyeler, Riehen Group
2006Selections from the permanent collectionNeue Galerie New York, New York City, NY Group
2006Körper, Gesicht und Seele; Vom 16. bis zum 21. JahrhundertLeopold Museum, Vienna Group
2006EssayGalerie St. Etienne, New York City, NY Group
2006Past, Present, FutureFrost and Reed Contemporary, London Group
2006Past, Present, FutureFrost and Reed, New York City, NY Group
2006Vision IIToyota Municipal Museum of Art, Toyota Aichi Group
2005Gustav Klimt: Papiers ErotiquesMusée Maillol, Fondation Dina Vierny, Paris Solo
2005Mit BleistiftStädel Museum, Frankfurt, Main Group
2005Vienne 1900 Klimt, Schiele, Moser, KokoschkaMusée d´Orsay, Paris Group
2005RIMPANational Museum of Modern Art Tokyo (MOMAT), Tokyo Group
2005Archipenko bis ZobernigKunsthaus Zug, Zug Group
2005DAS NEUE ÖSTERREICHBelvedere, Vienna Group
2005Reflections and Shadows. Impressionism and Nineteenth Century StyleThe Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art, Hartford, CT Group
2004Gustav Klimt: DisegniPinacoteca Giovanni e Marella Agnelli, Turin Solo
2004Gustav Klimt: DisegniGalleria Civica d´Arte Moderna e Contemporanea, Turin Solo
2004Bilder von Kindern. Bildern für KinderLeopold Museum, Vienna Group
2004Vision einer SammlungMuseum der Moderne Salzburg Mönchsberg, Salzburg Group
2004Klimt, Schiele, KokoschkaBuda Palace, Budapest Group
2004Das MoMA in Berlin. Meisterwerke aus dem Museum of Modern Art, New YorkNeue Nationalgalerie, Berlin Group
2004Reflections and Shadows: Impressionism and 19th-Century StyleThe Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art, Hartford, CT Group
2003The Eunice and Hal David Collection of 19th and 20th Century Works on PaperUCLA Hammer Museum, Los Angeles, CA Group
2002Klimt-LandschaftenBelvedere, Vienna Solo
2002Gustav Klimt: LandscapesSterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, Williamstown, MA Solo
2002Von Klimt bis RainerMuseum der Moderne Salzburg Rupertinum, Salzburg Group
2002Der Akt in der Kunst des 20. JahrhundertsKunsthalle in Emden, Emden Group
2002Meisterwerke aus der Sammlung des Kunstmuseums SolothurnKunstmuseum Solothurn, Solothurn Group
2002Plotting: An Exhibition Of StudiesCarrie Secrist Gallery, Chicago, IL Group
2002Peintres de Vienne: de la Sécession à l'expressionnismeMusée de Lodève, Lodève Group
2002Obras maestras de la pintura europea. Colección RauMuseo Nacional de Colombia, Bogota Group
2002V.I.P.Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive BAM, PFA, Berkeley, CA Group
2002Boeckl, Schiele, Klimt, ... Kunstmetropole WienStadtgalerie Klagenfurt, Klagenfurt Group
2002Von Klimt bis Wotruba. Meisterwerke der Modernen Galerie am FerdinandeumRLB Kunstbrücke, Innsbruck Group
2001Gustav Klimt: Modernism in the MakingNational Gallery of Canada, Ottawa, ON Solo
2001Selected Modern WorksHackett Freedman Gallery, San Francisco, CA Group
2001Ornament und AbstraktionFondation Beyeler, Riehen Group
2001A Legacy For LearningCantor Arts Center at Stanford University, Stanford, CA Group
2001VisionToyota Municipal Museum of Art, Toyota Aichi Group
2001De Caspar David Friedrich a PicassoFundación Juan March, Madrid Group
2000Klimt und die FrauenBelvedere, Vienna Solo
2000Art Nouveau, 1890-1914The National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC Group
1997100 ZeichnungenStadtgalerie Klagenfurt, Klagenfurt Solo
1997Gustav KlimtRichard Nagy, London Solo
1992Gustav KlimtKunsthaus Zürich, Zurich Solo
1992Gustav Klimt. Pictures and DrawningsInternational Cultural Centre, Międzynarodowe Centrum Kultury, Krakow Solo
1989Gustav Klimt: Paintings and DrawingsGalerie St. Etienne, New York City, NY Solo
1985Gustav Klimt: Quadrat BottropJosef Albers Museum, Bottrop Solo
1983Gustav Klimt: Drawings and Selected PaintingsGalerie St. Etienne, New York City, NY Solo
1970Gustav KlimtGalerie St. Etienne, New York City, NY Solo
1967Gustav KlimtGalerie St. Etienne, New York City, NY Solo
1959Gustav KlimtGalerie St. Etienne, New York City, NY Solo