Let’s Start With Where All the Gold Came From
One of the most popular painters of all time, Gustav Klimt is well known for certain things (gold, gold and more gold) but many interesting and slightly scandalous notes in his bio are often left by the wayside. Here are seven surprises (if not downright skeletons) hiding in his closet … gold-leafed of course.
# 7 – Into Landscapes
Klimt is known and loved for his depictions of women, but he actually had a good deal of room in his oeuvre for landscapes. It is the only genre besides figure painting that compelled him.
He went on yearly trips to Lake Atter in Upper Austria and painted many of his landscapes in those environs. The locals of the area, struck by his focus, nicknamed him Waldschrat or “forest demon.”
The flattened picture plane of his landscapes is attributed by many art historians to Klimt’s use of a telescope to, well, scope his composition from afar.
#6 – He Started Two Art Movements
It’s pretty intense to have your name tied to the creation of one art movement, but two? You go, Gustav.
The Company of Artists was the first movement and it was a success. The artists involved got commissions and public attention. The second, Vienna Secession, brought Klimt even more acclaim and creative freedom. It is also the movement most closely associated with the symbolism that Klimt is best known for.
The Sezession also did much to allow young artists to break away from the yoke of academic painting and embrace all genres of art. It also brought famed international artists to Vienna making the city an international art hotspot. We say again, you go, Gustav!
# 5 – Not Interested in Himself
Klimt never created a single self-portrait. This is especially unusual in an artist who was as interested in figure drawing and painting as Klimt was.
He must have been hounded about this noteworthy lack because he eventually wrote an entire essay on the subject titled Commentary on a non-existent self-portrait.
In it, he writes, “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.”
#4 – Not Interested in the High Life
One might assume that all the glitz on the surface of Klimt’s paintings would translate to an equally luxurious personal life, mixing it up with Vienna’s high society and reaping the benefits of his celebrity status.
Nothing could be farther from the truth. Klimt was a bit of a homebody and spent his days working from home on his art in his signature long, flowing caftan and sandals and apparently (don’t ask why this is such a well know art-historical fact) no underwear. He didn’t carouse in the cafes like other artists of his day and was in a position where, with his reputation made, he could let his patrons literally come to him.
#3 – Quite a Lover
Though always managing to avoid public scandal, Klimt was something of a Lothario. Well, a Lothario, Don Juan and Romeo all put together. He was highly sexually active, never married and is rumored to have slept with every woman he painted. Despite numerous affairs with his models, he claimed the love of his life was his sister-in-law’s youngest sister, fashion designer Emilie Flöge. Flöge is the supposed muse of Klimt’s masterpiece, The Kiss.
Klimt is also rumored to have fathered no less than 14 children though he publicly acknowledged only four of them.
Art definitely imitated life, at least with Klimt. His subject matter and compositions were often highly erotic, featuring sexual subject matter and females positioned in sensual poses that were quite radical for his day. In one instance, with a mural planned for the University of Vienna, Klimt’s subject matter proved to be too much for his audience and the works, deemed ‘pornography’ and showcasing ‘perverted excess,’ were never finished. The paintings were eventually destroyed by fires set by Nazis in May 1945.
#2 – Large Scale Masterpiece
Seen on postcards and bookmarks worldwide, we often forget that Klimt’s The Kiss is a massive work and isn’t a rectangle. It is perfectly square and exactly 180 centimeters wide and tall. That’s practically six feet across!
#1 – A Gold Period That Was Just That
Klimt is best known for the gold-leaf glow of many of his famous paintings. But his golden phase actually came well into the middle of his career.
Before that time he painted predominately in oil and did many large-scale murals. He came by his handling of gold leaf through his father, an engraver. It was he who tutored his son on how to use the delicate material.
The two works most closely associated with Klimt’s gold period are The Kiss and the Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I.
The song should go, “Baby it’s cold outside, so let’s snuggle up and color in some master prints.” That is our recommendation for a warm and fun-filled artful evening this winter. With Master Prints, color or paint between the lines of our greatest art masters including Klimt! Recreate 34 masterpieces just as they were originally rendered. Or switch it up and add your own unique and colorful twist. Enjoy!