One of the most important symbolist painter born ahead of his time, Austrian artist Gustav Klimt is well-known today for his paintings created during his Golden Phase such as “The Kiss”, “Danae” and “Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I”.
Klimt started his career as a successful decorative painter popularly commissioned to paint murals and embellish museums, churches and other important buildings, working closely with his brother and a friend under the name “Company of Artists”.
However, the deaths of both his father and brother in 1892 led to a shift in his artistic vision from classicism to a more personal Art Nouveau style that includes highly ornamental gold paint, abstract compositions and erotic symbolism of the female figure.
His new-found style provoked outcry and was rejected by the conservative Austrian society, but was well-received overseas. He attained international fame as Art Nouveau painter and at the height of his career, Klimt co-founded the Vienna Secession in 1897 to support the works of local and foreign non-traditional artists.
Klimt’s Golden Phase, inspired by Byzantine mosaics he saw on his visits to Venice and Ravenna, brought him much positive recognition and financial success. However, he kept a simple and discreet life, devoted to his art and his family, and avoiding socializing with other artists. He mentored younger artists including Egon Schiele and Oskar Kokoschka and paved the way for other modernist artists.
“There is nothing that special to see when looking at me. I’m a painter who paints day in day out, from morning till evening. Whoever wants to know something about me ought to look carefully at my pictures and try and see in them what I am and what I want to do.” – Gustav Klimt
On January 11, 1918, Klimt was left partially paralyzed by a stroke and while hospitalized, caught a lung infection and died the following February 6.
This year marks the 100th death anniversary of a great symbolist master.