Art History

In Celebration of Gustav Klimt

On July 14th we will celebrate the 156th birthday of Gustav Klimt.  Klimt’s contribution to the art world is immeasurable.  His works have brought some of the highest prices at auction for individual works of art.  In 2006 his Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I broke records when it sold for $135 million.  Here are a few facts about the life of this influential man.

1.Gustav Klimt came from humble origins.

Gustav Klimt was born on July 14, 1862 into an impoverished family.  He was the 2nd of 7 children.  His father was a gold engraver and his mother was musician, however, she never made a profession from her musical talents.  His artistic talent manifested early in his life.  At the age of 14 Klimt won a scholarship to the Vienna School of Arts and Crafts.


2. Klimt was a famous and decorated artist during his lifetime.

In the 1880s, Kilmt became known for his murals. He received the Golden Order of Merit from the Austrian Emperor, Franz Josef I, for his contributions to the murals in the Burgtheater, Vienna.  He painted some of his most famous works during his “Golden Phase”, named after the gold leafing he used in his paintings.  The Kiss (1907–1908) and Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I (1907) are two of the most famous paintings in the world.

3. The Faculty Paintings were extremely controversial when they debuted in 1900.

In 1894 Klimt was commissioned to paint murals for the ceiling of the University of Vienna. The three murals were Philosophy, Medicine, and Jurisprudence.  All three would come to be known as the Faculty Paintings.  These paintings were called “pornographic” and caused great controversy when presented in 1900.  In 1901 a public prosecutor was called in and the issue even reached the Parliament of Austria, the first time that a cultural debate had ever been raised there, however, nothing ever came from it.  As a response to the criticism in 1902 Klimt painted Goldfish, which was originally titled To my Critics, and depicted a woman prominently displaying her backside to the viewer.  In 1904 Klimt resigned the commission and requested to keep the paintings.  The government, however, declared that the paintings were property of the state.  Klimt held off the officials sent to claim the paintings with a shotgun.  He repaid the commission and was allowed to keep the paintings. The paintings were destroyed by Nazi forces during WWII.  Sketches and photographs are all that remain.

4. Klimt was a founding member of the Vienna Secession.

In 1897 Klimt and a group of like-minded artist resigned their membership in the Vienna Artists’ Association and founded a new organization known as the Vienna Secession. The Vienna Secession movement broke from traditional styles and allowed artists to express themselves more freely.  Klimt would part ways with the Vienna Secessionist in 1905 due to differences regarding artistic ideas.

5. Klimt never married.

During his life he was notorious for his love of women.  He allegedly fathered 14 children from various affairs.  Although he would engage in numerous affairs, his longtime companion was Emilie Floge.  The two would sustain a relationship for 27 years, from the time he was about 30 years old until his death in 1918.  There is no proof that the two had a physical relationship, however, some believe that The Kiss is a depiction of he and Emilie as lovers.  His dying words were reportedly “Get Emilie” and he left half of his estate to her.


Visit our Klimt gallery here.

About the Author

Kara graduated from Emporia State University with a BA in History. She enjoys researching a variety of historical topics, from American History to the Renaissance. In her spare time she relaxes by spending as much time as she can in the outdoors with her family.