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Born in 1862, Gustav Klimt was an Austrian painter known for his beautiful, highly decorative works, often exuding an erotic theme. During his time, Klimt was seen as rebellious, since he created paintings that were not in line with academic art – indeed, he created art and lived life on his own terms. Nevertheless, his paintings are true masterpieces, especially those which showcase his use of gold leaf, adding a gorgeous new element. We’ve rounded up some of our favorite paintings by Klimt below.
Depicting the biblical character Judith, this painting, which is a heavily gilded piece, focuses on the title character. As the title suggests, Judith is, indeed, holding the head the Holofernes; however, in order to not take any attention away from her, Klimt has only painted part of Holofernes’ head. And as with Klimt’s female figures, this one exudes eroticism — the sensual, femme fatale Judith has a pleased look on her face while staring down at the viewer, and she is, like so many of Klimt’s women, nude. This work can be found at the Österreichische Galerie Belvedere in Vienna.
Beethoven Frieze, painted in 1901-02, was meant to be a temporary work paying respect to Beethoven, but thankfully for art lovers, it is still located in the same building in which it was created. Based on Richard’s Wagner’s interpretation of Beethoven’s ‘9th Symphony,’ Klimt’s work of art spans 34 meters, depicting the struggles that humans face throughout life followed by the happiness found in art. With a long history, the frieze was removed and sold twice and held in storage for years before being sold again. Purchased by the Republic of Austria, the artwork underwent a ten-year-long restoration and is, once again, on view at the Secession Building in Vienna.
Emilie Flöge was a couturière who also happened to be Klimt’s life partner. While Klimt was known for his womanizing ways, Emilie was the one woman who was always by his side when it come to companionship and design – she even designed gowns depicted in his paintings. In 1902, Klimt painted a standing portrait of Emilie, who is wearing a beautiful, long and embellished gown in colors of blues, purples, black and gold, which, like many of his works, were radical for the time. For the most part, the background is neutral, allowing Emilie, who looks right at the spectator, to be the main focal point.
The Three Ages of Woman (1905) is an allegorical painting depicting three women in varying stages of life, from a baby to an old woman – in other words, it represents the circle of life. A mother tenderly embraces her daughter while an elderly woman stands nearby, head looking downward with her hand covering her face. All three figures are nude; however, the young mother’s hair is adorned with flowers while a sheer, colorful cloth wraps around the lower portion of her and her baby’s body. The somber figure of the elderly woman, which may have been inspired by Rodin’s The Old Courtesan, is completely exposed with her saggy, wrinkling skin, signifying that the end is near. This particular work can be found in Rome at the Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Moderna.
Many of Klimt’s paintings are very erotic; however, with Danäe, he manages to take it to a whole other level. Completed in 1907, the painting depicts Danäe from Greek mythology, who was locked in a bronze tower by her father in order to protect her from men, as he believed she would go on to have son who would end up killing him. Viewers see a nude Danäe sound asleep, and in this particular scene, she is being visited by Zeus ,who is impregnating her with golden coins that are sliding down between her legs while she has a look of contentment on her face. You can find this work in Vienna at the Galerie Würthle.
One of the most expensive artworks ever sold, the Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I is located at the Neue Galerie in New York City. Painted in 1907, this heavily gilded painting depicts the Viennese socialite Adele Bloch-Bauer who sat twice for Klimt, being the only person to ever do so, and has a fascinating history. The work was seized by the Nazi government and eventually ended up in an Austrian museum when the rightful heir, Maria Altmann, sued the Austrian government in the mid-2000s and won. A stunning masterpiece, the work is sure to take any spectator’s breath away when viewed in person.
Showing pregnancy in works of art is not a common sight, especially in the past; however, Klimt’s Hope, II depicts just that. Painted from 1907-1908, this work features a woman cloaked in a colorful garment with her breasts exposed, looking down with her eyes closed. A skull is peeking out from her robe while three women — who almost seem to get swallowed up by the woman’s garment — at the bottom of the painting are also looking down. The background is neutral, drawing the viewer’s eyes to the center of the painting. While the title bears the word ‘hope,’ everything in the painting leads the spectator to believe that it’s not going to be okay. Find this one at MoMA in New York City.
Started in 1907, Kiss (Lovers) is undeniably Klimt’s most famous work and is part of his ‘Golden Phase,’ in which he used gold leaf to add a luxurious aspect to his works. Depicting a couple in love who are amidst a field of flowers, the beautiful painting shows a woman with her head tilted while a man, whose face can’t be seen for the most part, kisses her on the cheek. Embracing each other tightly, the man’s garb is adorned with geometric shapes (rectangles of black, white, grey and gold) and the woman’s with colorful flowers, representing femininity. Today, this incredible, symbolic work can be found at the Österreichische Galerie Belvedere in Vienna.
Besides his figure paintings, Gustav Klimt was also inspired by the beautiful outdoors. Throughout the years, the artist was known to spend time in Attersee, a beautiful lake and resort located in northern Austria, during the summers. He found much inspiration there and painted various landscapes over the years, whether they were depictions of the water, the fields of flower, or even an avenue in the a park like Avenue in the Park of Schloss Kammer. It’s a painting that feels as though you could step right inside and take a stroll along the avenue, with grand trees on each side forming a canopy.
Located at the National Gallery in Prague, The Virgin is a colorful display of brilliance by Klimt, and as with most of his works, this one is also brimming with symbolism. On the surface, it is a beautiful work featuring a central sleeping figure with six others surrounding her, adorned with bold blues, reds, greens, yellows and more, but when you look deeper, you will find various symbols alluding to the virgin becoming a woman ,such as the spirals on the dress (which represent fertility) and the slight parting of her legs. Wanting to capture a mood — or emotional feeling — as all Symbolists wanted at the time, Klimt succeeded with The Virgin, as the viewer is drawn into the painting, wondering what the the virgin is dreaming about.