Gustav Klimt: (July 14, 1862 – February 6, 1918) was an Austrian Symbolist painter and one of the most prominent members of the Vienna Art Nouveau (Vienna Secession) movement. His major works include paintings, murals, sketches and other art objects, many of which are on display in the Vienna Secession gallery. Klimt's primary subject was the female body, and his works are marked by a frank eroticism--nowhere is this more apparent than in his numerous drawings in pencil (see Mulher sentada, below). These female subjects, whether formal portraits or indolent nudes, invariably display a highly sensitized fin de siècle elegance.
Gustav Klimt was born in Baumgarten, near Vienna, Austria, the second of seven children-- three boys and four girls. His father, Ernst Klimt, was a gold engraver, albeit financially unsuccessful, who married Anna Klimt (née Finster). Klimt lived in poverty for most of his childhood. Klimt was enrolled, at 14, in the Vienna School of Arts and Crafts (Kunstgewerbeschule) in 1876, where he studied until 1883, and received training as an architectural decorator. In 1877 his brother Ernst, who, like his father, would become an engraver, also enrolled in the school. The two brothers and their friend Franz Matsch began working together and by 1880 the three had received numerous commissions. Klimt began his professional career painting interior murals in large public buildings on the Ringstraße.
In 1888 Klimt received the Golden order of Merit from Emperor Franz Josef I of Austria for his contributions to art. He also became an honorary member of the University of Munich and the University of Vienna. In 1892 both his father and brother Ernst died. It was in the early 1890s that Klimt met Emilie Flöge, who, notwithstanding the artist's relationships with other women, was to be his companion until the end of his life.
Klimt was one of the founding members and president of the Wiener Sezession (Vienna Secession) in 1897, and of the group's periodical Ver Sacrum (Sacred Spring). He remained with the Secession until 1908.
Beginning in the late 1890s Klimt took annual summer holidays with the Flöge family on the shores of Attersee and painted many of his landscapes there. These works constitute the only genre aside from the figure that seriously interested Klimt, and are of a number and quality so as to merit a separate appreciation. Formally, the landscapes are characterized by the same refinement of design and emphatic patterning as the figural pieces. Deep space in the Attersee works is so efficiently flattened to a single plane, it is believed that Klimt painted them while looking through a telescope.
In 1894, Klimt was commissioned to create three paintings to decorate the ceiling of the Great Hall in the University of Vienna. Not completed until the turn of the century, his three paintings, Philosophy, Medicine, and Jurisprudence were criticized for their radical themes and 'pornographic' material. As a result, they were not displayed on the ceiling of the Great Hall. This would be the last public commission accepted by the artist. All three paintings were eventually destroyed by retreating SS forces in May 1945. (See Klimt University of Vienna Ceiling Paintings for more detail.)
In 1902 Klimt finished the Beethoven Frieze for the 14th Vienna Secessionist exhibition, which was intended to be a celebration of the composer. Meant for the exhibition only, the frieze was painted directly on the walls with light materials. After the exhibition the painting was preserved, although it did not go on display until 1986.
Gustav Klimt's 'Golden Phase' was marked by positive critical reaction and success. Many of his paintings from this period utilized gold leaf; the prominent use of gold can first be traced back to Pallas Athene (1898) and Judith I (1901), although the works most popularly associated with this period are the Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I (1907) and The Kiss (1907 - 1908).