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Gustav Klimt

1862-1918

Gustav Klimt was born on July 14, 1862, in Baumgarten, Austria, the second seven children,  the son of a poor jewelry engraver,  It is only at the age of fourteen, after he enters the University of Plastic Arts in Vienna, that he begins developing his talent as an artist; he studied at the University until graduating at the age of twenty, at which time he had been commissioned to create several decorative works, making use of his training in modernist craftsmanship.   He then founded the Känstlercompanie (Company of Artists) studio with his brother Ernst, and Franz Matsch, a fellow student.  The three found much success as mural painters, getting contracts from museums, theaters, and other decorative artwork for wealthy patrons.  The company eventually ceased to exist, following the death of Ernst, and a falling out with Franz Matsch.

During his years as a decorator, Klimt finely honed his personal style, which was a product of his artistic training, and the engraving skills his father had taught him. Klimt's paintings often included gold and silver paint, metal, and ceramics, and as much attention was given to ornamental details as to their subjects. Very few of Klimt's paintings were done on canvases, as he preferred to paint murals.  Klimt also found inspiration in Byzantine mosaics, which he discovered while exploring Vienna.

In 1897,  Gustav Klimt took an interest in politics and rallied other artists to found the Vienna Sezession, a Art Nouveau movement whose goal was to give young, innovative artists a chance to get exposure, and to revolt against the conservative attitudes of the academic art world.  He organized several exhibits, attracting thousands from around the world to view their revolutionary art, and even published "Ver Sacrum", a monthly magazine about the movement and its artists.  His own personal style came to represent the movement's aesthetics, and in 1902, he painted the "Beethoven Fries", a mural for the Sezession building.

In 1905, following a series of disagreements with other members of the Sezession several others leave the group, and form a new association called the Kunstschau (Art Show).  His famous painting, The Kiss, was created between 1907 and 1908, but it is still associated with the Sezession.  Klimt was a very popular artist, but he was also quite controversial.  He was renowned for his womanizing, and often used prostitutes as models.  Many of his works were considered too sensual for the mores of early 20th Century Vienna, and even his more historical, or mythical works featuring nudes were often criticized for being too erotic.   Fortunately, the scandals only served to heighten Klimt's international recognition, if not his notoriety.

In addition to women, Klimt often traveled to the outskirts of Vienna,  and the Italian countryside, finding inspiration in nature, particularly autumnal landscapes, which already showed the rich golden hues of his own decorative designs.  From the opulence of the Viennese Bourgeoisie to the mythological, from eroticism to the simple beauty of nature, Klimt's artwork always maintained its highly stylized feel, but what remains one of its most fascinating traits is that while concentrating on the superficial, its depth cannot be ignored. 

In 1917, he was made an honorary member the Viennese Academy of Fine Arts.   On January 11th of the following year, at the age of 55, Gustav Klimt suffered a stroke while working in his apartment.  Weakened from the stroke, and suffering from pneumonia, he died less than a month later, on February 6th, 1918.

 

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