Behind each of Klimt's mind-bending creations, there are also fascinating stories that enrich his works even more.
The first thing that comes to my mind when I think of Gustav Klimt is gold. Although this feature has practically become a synonym of his work, the magical effect of the golden worlds he creates isn't the only thing that makes his paintings great. He also makes his creations seem both otherworldly and human: his muses can be powerful and alluring, but also fragile and vulnerable. With only a gaze, the subjects of his paintings are able to convey pleasure, joy, love, or nostalgia, something that not every artist is able to accomplish.
Behind each of his mesmerizing creations, there are fascinating stories and facts that make his works even more memorable. Check out these interesting facts and dive into the golden world of this unique painter.
Death and Life (1905)
Not all his paintings are golden
Gustav Klimt’s most famous paintings belong to what critics call his “Golden Phase,” where he would use gold leaf and a style inspired by medieval Byzantine art for most of his paintings. Although this was the most prominent stage of his career, he previously experimented with highly erotic drawings and was often commissioned to paint murals. However, after a while, he started experimenting with gold. He was inspired by his father, who was an engraver and taught him how to work with gold leaf.
His paintings were considered too sexual in his time
Klimt chose erotic themes for his paintings, and his muses' powerful and sensual poses have seduced audiences for years. So, if we see the erotic yet sophisticated undertones of his paintings, just imagine how those works were received in the conservative world of nineteenth century society. Before becoming famous during his Golden Phase, Klimt first became known for causing controversy in the art world, especially when he showed his paintings Philosophy, Medicine, and Jurisprudence, which was meant to adorn the ceiling of the University of Vienna. The paintings were not shown because they were considered pornographic and perverted. The reason for this was that, unlike most of the paintings being produced at the time, Klimt's were a fantastic and raw representation of humanity at its best and its worst. However, the scandal didn’t end Klimt’s career. It actually helped him become even more famous.
The Kiss (1907-1908)
He had a love life worthy of a novel
In his life and his works, Klimt showed how much he loved women. Apparently, though, he took his love a bit too far and was known for having numerous affairs with his models. He is said to have fathered, at least, 14 children. Nonetheless, the woman who was said to be the love of his life was fashion designer Emilie Flöge, his sister-in-law's youngest sister. In their correspondence, he says he felt that their love was sacred and that his love for her was ideal, not sexual (very Platonic of him). Emilie became his muse in 1891, and it is believed that she inspired his most famous painting, The Kiss.
Restored section of Medicine (1900-1907)
The Nazis stole and destroyed some of his paintings
Klimt’s paintings weren't safe from the Nazis and their destruction of paintings. Remember the paintings meant for the ceiling of the University of Vienna? Well, just like Klimt’s contemporaries, the Nazis thought his highly symbolic and erotic depiction of life was inappropriate, so they destroyed them. Nowadays, we only know about them from Klimt’s sketches, reconstructions, and a restored section from Medicine. The Nazis also stole another of his paintings, but this time, the story has a happy ending. The painting was his famous portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer. It belonged to the model’s husband, Jewish businessman Ferdinand Bloch-Bauer, who fled Austria in 1938, when the Nazis were gaining power. His painting was confiscated by the Third Reich, and it was kept in a museum, until it was given back to Maria Altmann, Adele’s niece, in 2006.
Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I (1907)
Despite making millions, he was known for living a humble life
You would think that a painter who used gold as his main material lived an ostentatious and expensive life. However, Klimt only wore a tunic and sandals, and lived a humble life. His family was very poor, but he managed to study at the Vienna Public Art School. When he became famous, instead of immersing himself in the high society of his country, he decided to focus on his passion: art.
Hope II (1907-1908)
Though Klimt’s works are worth millions of dollars, what makes them truly valuable isn’t the gold itself, but rather his story and the talent visible in each of his works. If you want to know more about this fascinating painter, check out these articles: