Klimt and the Kiss: the man behind the masterpiece

Gustav Klimt once said, "I am not very good at the spoken or the written word, particularly not if I am supposed to say something about myself or my work." It seems to understand this Austrian painter's work, we must look at his artistic background and influences, which culminated in the creation of a unique visual language that has remained iconic for many years after his death. Klimt's world of gold, dazzling patterns, sumptuous gardens, and beautiful women show us a glimpse of the character he found so hard to express.

Klimt grew up watching his father engrave gold and silver, and as a young man he earned a living completing architectural decorative commissions, such as fresco painting and mosaics. As he developed his style, he began to explore portraits and allegorical paintings.

By the 1890s, Klimt was one of the forerunners of Viennese Modernism. He produced work which rejected artistic traditions of Naturalism, trying to capture the subconscious and mystical in his paintings. Klimt's work from this era became more dreamlike, combining his background in decorative engraving and mosaics with subliminal and sensual subjects. His paintings of women in erotic poses, borrowed from artefacts he saw in museums, caused quite an uproar with the more traditional art clientele of Vienna.

The Kiss (1907-8) is considered by most to be the culmination of Klimt's work. At this point in his career, his unique symbolism was so established in his paintings that it can be used to dissect the essence of each piece. The Kiss is particularly telling of his view on the sexes. Both figures are draped in exquisitely patterned cloths, drawn together in a lover's embrace.

The male figure grips his partner's face with both hands, wrapped in a coat that is masculine and decisively patterned with black squares, and accentuating his dark, ivy-adorned hair. The woman, whose beautiful face is turned to the viewer, reacts lovingly to his affection, grasping him as he kisses her. Her clothing is covered in floral motifs and delicate gold concentric circles, and she has small flowers in her auburn hair, as if she is one with the lush lawn beneath them.

A celebration of the senses, The Kiss epitomises Klimt's artistic mastery. He may not have been adept with words, but his paintings speak volumes about his character and his influences within the Viennese Modernism movement.

Exhibition on Screen: Klimt and The Kiss screens from 5th Nov: /klimtandthekiss


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