Gustav Klimt is an artist of surprises.
Considered both a symbolist and a member of the Art Nouveau movement, Klimt is most well known for his bold intersections of design and draftsmanship, like his first Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer, shown above (larger version here) which last year set a record for the highest price paid at auction for a single work of art, at $135 million.
Unlike many artists whose works become posthumous monuments to the greed-fests in an art market gone mad, in which dealers make millions standing on the graves of artists who lived in poverty and desperation, Klimt actually received a good deal of success with his work during his lifetime. Many of his works from his most successful periods used gold leaf on their surface, a tradition reaching back to the decorative arts of previous centuries.
Klimt’s work is general is some of the most sought after, highly priced and most widely reproduced art in the world, and there are numerous books on the artist. But for those with on only a passing exposure to his paintings and drawings, he can continue to surprise and delight as you delve further.
Klimt’s art can be seen as a nexus of many styles in influences. If you’re familiar with works like the above portrait or his famous image of The Kiss, one of the most widely reproduced images in art, you may be surprised by his earlier works, that are much more traditional and academic (or “realistic”) in approach. Some of them, like Two Girls with Oleander, suggest the work of the Pre-Raphaelites in their blending of Art Nouveau grace with representational painting; others have the muted softness of Whistler’s portraits.
If you are aware of Klimt’s fascination with the female figure and the warm, frank eroticism of his drawings, you might be surprised by the the number and intensity of his landscape paintings.
In his landscapes, as in his most famous figurative works, Klimt flattens out the image to the picture plane, but mixes “realistic” rendering of figures or objects with design elements, often filled with luxurious patterns pulled from the rich history of decorative arts. His figures can retain their “realism” even while being stretched and extended like those of Modigliani or Giocametti, so that the figures themselves become simultaneously decorative elements and pictorial images, both standing out from and blending into the Byzantine dazzle of their surroundings.
He manages to simultaneously prompt delight in our appreciation of design and the decoration of surface, and tap our deep response to recognizable figures and elements of nature.
This intersection of pictorial image and design is one of the reasons for the strong appeal of Art Nouveau, and Klimt throws in another strongly appealing element, sexual desire, with smoldering erotic undertones in many of his images, and overt eroticism in others, particularly in his drawings.
In other words, Klimt knows how to push our buttons, and oh how we love to have them pushed.
[Note: the sites linked here contain images that are not suitable for children and Not Safe For Work.]
Ciudad de la Pintura (ES)
Bio and images on LAKS.com
Wikipedia (bio and images)
Artcyclopedia (links, resources, museum listings)
12 Replies to “Gustav Klimt”
No comment -what to say about Klimt, one of the most inspiring artist for a lot of people…
Hey Charley, just wanted to point out something : His correct name is Gustav Klimt, not Guatav Klimpt, though maybe in Austria it is written like that, i don’t know :D
He is one of my favorite artists, and one of the greatest painters in history. His work has inspired me a lot.
Thanks for the comment, Li-An.
As always with famous and familiar artists, the challenge for us is to try to look at the range of his work with fresh eyes.
Thanks, Ericka, a simple typo on my part. Corrected.
Klimt has always been on my list of favorites. His landscapes are fascinating.
Thanks for highlighting Klimt’s versatility and bringing it back to the forefront!
there’s one truly unique artist, there hasn’t been anyone like him since…
well said about the pushing of buttons!
I find it interesting when somebody pays $24 Million for an historic diamond (the Wittelsbach in December 2008) people go f**king NUTS, griping that the “money should have gone to a charity”, but when its a figure six times that and for another equally valid artform (in this case a painting), nobody has an issue with it. Hmm.
Hmmm, usually it’s the value of art that’s understated, and the value of precious objects that’s overstated, though both are being treated as commodities.
The latest (July 2011) news on Klimt must not go unnoticed.
The priciest Klimt sofar is a gold-splattered 1907 oil portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer, for which cosmetics magnate Ronald Lauder paid US$135 million in 2006. Whoa!
You’ve incorrectly typed his name as Klimpt with a T in it, first and third paragraphs.
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