Painting in Gold: Gustav Klimt

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At the request of readers Melanie & Johnny, today's "Feel Art Again" features Gustav Klimt (1862-1918). The Austrian artist overcame poverty in his youth to create paintings decorated with gold leaf, such as "Adele Bloch-Bauer I" (above left) and "The Kiss"(above right).

1. Adele Bloch-Bauer, depicted in the painting above left, was the only person to be the subject of more than one Gustav Klimt portrait. His first painting of Bloch-Bauer, which measures 138 cm x 138 cm, took 3 years to complete and is considered the Austrian Mona Lisa. It was acquired in 2006 by Ronald Lauder, of the Estee Lauder fortune, for $135 million after a protracted legal dispute, which stemmed, in part, from the Nazi seizure of the portrait during WWII. The painting is featured in 3 documentaries: The Rape of Europa (2006), Stealing Klimt (2007), and Adele's Wish (2008).

2. Klimt, who never painted a self-portrait, stated, "I am less interested in myself as a subject for a painting than I am in other people, above all women"¦" The artist was renowned for his womanizing and fathered at least 14 children.

3. Klimt and his brother, Ernst, inherited their artistic abilities from their father, who was a gold engraver. The two brothers attended the Vienna School of Arts and Crafts and, with their friend Franz Matsch, took commissions as the "Company of Artists." After the death of both his brother and his father in 1892, Klimt assumed financial responsibility for his siblings and his brother's family, but was unable to paint for almost 6 years.

4. In 1894, Klimt was commissioned for three paintings for the ceiling of the Great Hall at the University of Vienna. The paintings—titled "Philosophy," "Medicine," and "Jurisprudence"—caused an uproar, with some critics declaring them "pornographic." In total, 87 faculty members protested the paintings. The controversy even became the first cultural debate to land in front of the Parliament of Austria; only the education minister stood in Klimt's defense. In the end, no action was taken and the paintings remained, although they were later destroyed by retreating SS forces in May 1945.

5. Klimt helped found the Wiener Sezession (Vienna Secession), of which he became the first president. Their basic principle: "We do not recognize any difference between great and minor art, between the art of the rich and that of the poor. Art belongs to all." Supported in their efforts by the government, they were able to lease public land to erect an exhibition hall.

Larger versions of "Adele Bloch-Bauer I" (above left), "The Kiss" (above right), and "Wasserschlangen (Freundinnen) II" (below) are available.

Fans should check out the iKlimt and Klimt Gallery web sites; the Klimt collections on Zeno and Wikimedia Commons; the Tate's 2008 Klimt exhibition; the Klimt portfolio, One Hundred Drawings; the books Gustav Klimt: 1862-1918 and Gustav Klimt: Art Nouveau Visionary; the movie Klimt (2006), starring John Malkovich; and the photo series "La esencia de Klimt."


"Feel Art Again" appears three times a week. Looking for a particular artist? Visit our archive for a complete listing of all 250+ artists that have been featured. You can e-mail us at feelartagain@gmail.com with details of current exhibitions, for sources or further reading, or to suggest artists. Or you can head to our Facebook page, where you can do everything in one place.

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