Klimt, Gustav

from The New Book of Knowledge®

ART HISTORY ON DEMAND > Artists

Gustav Klimt was a leader of modern painting in Austria. Klimt was born on July 14, 1862, in Baumgarten near Vienna. Between 1876 and 1883, he studied at the Vienna School of Decorative Arts and painted murals for theaters with his brother Ernst. Klimt was saddened by the death of Ernst in 1892. Over the next five years, his public works dwindled to almost nothing. In 1900, Klimt completed the first of three ceiling murals for the University of Vienna. These works were controversial because they illustrated somber aspects of life, such as death and disease.

Between 1897 and 1905, Klimt was the leader of the Secession. This was a group of Austrian artists dedicated to artistic freedom and a style of art known as art nouveau. He began painting landscapes and portraits of wealthy Viennese ladies, receiving the support of loyal patrons. The radiant women in his portraits seem to appear in a kaleidoscope of geometric shapes, spirals, flowers, and golden decorations. Their faces and hands are painted realistically. But their fanciful dresses blend into a background of decorative patterns inspired by medieval, Byzantine, and Asian art.

Klimt also painted pictures of women that symbolized the cycles of life and death. His art celebrated love, beauty, and motherhood. But it also showed sadness, illness, and tragedy. His last two murals were Beethoven Frieze (1902) and the Stoclet Frieze (1905-09). They showed figures set against luxurious patterns of golden designs. Two of his most famous paintings are Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I (1907) and The Kiss (1907-08;).

Klimt died on February 6, 1918, in Vienna. His work influenced the younger Austrian artists Oskar Kokoschka and Egon Schiele. They helped create a style of art known as expressionism.

Joyce Raimondo
Department of Education
The Museum of Modern Art

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