Known as one of the greatest artists of modern time, Gustav Klimt created more than 160 inspiring pieces of art during his career. He was part of many art movements like Symbolism, Art Nouveau, and the Vienna Secession. Just like the Impressionists that came before him, Gustav Klimt was deeply fond of the intricate works of Japanese artists, which influenced his aesthetics and choice of subject matter.
Gustav Klimt artworks were considered promiscuous for his time, especially because of his sensual portrayal of women. This article is dedicated to the top five most revered Gustav Klimt paintings, many of which are from the artist’s Golden Phrase when he created his most incredible paintings.
The Kiss (1907 – 1908)
Arguably the most famous kiss in art history, the Gustav Klimt art “The Kiss” is a captivating portrayal of romantic love. This artwork was created during the height of his career, during the aforementioned Golden Phrase. The artwork is highly ornamented with real gold leaves, a technique seen in ancient Byzantine art which possibly inspired the modern painter.
Gustav Klimt would usually focus on the female form, but he decided to portray a couple’s embrace in this piece. The highly ornamental design of the artwork places it beautifully into Art Nouveau, making it an important mark on the movement. In this masterpiece, Gustav Klimt gracefully portrays a warm embrace of a couple wrapped in gold and carefully painted patterns of shapes, swirls, and florals as if the couple’s kiss transports them to a new world of visual fantasy.
To understand the magnitude of this piece, it is important to keep in mind the original canvas size measures 180 x 180 cm, which intensifies the viewer’s experience when they come face-to-face with the bold colors and shining gold of the masterpiece.
Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I (1907)
“Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer” was the last Gustav Klimt art from his revered Golden Phase and was created with silver, gold, and oil paint on canvas. Gustav Klimt drawings were created as studies to achieve this painting, and he made more than 100 before creating the final piece. The influence of the Byzantine artworks is most noticeable in this particular piece, as Adele Bloch-Bauer almost resembles a religious figure.
This portrait is a stunning demonstration of Art Nouveau in an expansive canvas of monumental size that took three years to complete. During World War II, this artwork was stolen by Nazi forces and ended up in Vienna, at the Austrian Gallery Belvedere. After more than 60 years, Adele’s niece began a legal battle to have the painting returned to her family and ultimately won. The story of this painting was so enticing that it even became a movie.
This masterpiece isn’t merely a reproduction of Adele’s likeness, but it creates an intimate and playful narrative within it, revealing the artist’s close and personal relationship with the model as she is wrapped in a Gustav Klimt golden forest.
Death and Life (1908-1915)
Like many of Gustav Klimt artworks from the Golden Phrase, “Death and Life”, created between 1908 and 1915, is a beautifully ornamented piece of art. This painting encompasses many aspects of Symbolism and Art Nouveau, as the modern painter includes symbolic meaning behind the figures. With a simple composition, he was able to convey a strong message of the fleeting aspects of life.
On the left, Death is represented with the traditional skull and a dark ornamented cloak with multiple crosses. On the right, creating a complete contrast, Gustav Klimt art represents life with a group of people, including an infant, intertwined in colorful patterns. Described by Gustav Klimt as his most important figurative work, the artist worked multiple years on this piece, even changing the gold background to darker colors.
In Greek mythology, Danae represents transcendence and divine love and was a popular theme during the period of this painting, which was created from 1907 to 1908. In ancient mythology, it is told that Danae was trapped in a bronze tower by the King of Argos, her father, where she was visited by Zeus. She later became the mother of Perseus, the great slayer of monsters.
This interpretation of a mythological theme went against the expected academic norms, as Gustav Klimt represented Danae in an intimate and unusual position. She appears lying down and curled up while wrapped in a regal fabric and surrounded by golden ornaments. Gustav Klimt drawings and studies were made in preparation for the final artwork as he asked various models to pose for him.
Three Ages of a Woman (1905)
The striking artwork “Three Ages of a Woman” is another example of how Gustav Klimt was an expert at joining Symbolism with the beautiful ornamental style of Art Nouveau. This piece carries a deep and strong message about the ephemeral aspect of life and the beauty of the phases of a woman’s life. By placing bright and colorful figures over a dark and gloomy background, Gustav Klimt was able to highlight the main characters of this piece in a surreal manner.
Gustav Klimt represents three figures, each representing a phase – an infant, a woman, and an elder, each radiating an emotion. The woman and baby have a more youthful atmosphere of love and hope, while the older woman stands alone in melancholy.
Gustav Klimt’s symbolist representation in his work is intense and moving, as he explores themes like life, death, sensuality, good and evil, among other deep subjects. His involvement in the Art Nouveau movement and his role in the creation of the Vienna Secession is the main reason why his work presents a decorative and ornamented quality. Gustav Klimt art was and continues to be a golden master of modern art.