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 Gustav Klimt  (1862 - 1918)

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Lived/Active: Austria/Germany      Known for: abstract portrait, figure, mural painting

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from Auction House Records.
Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer II
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This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Please note: Artists not classified as American in our database may have limited biographical data compared to the extensive information about American artists.

Gustav Klimt was born on July 14, 1862, the son of an Austrian jeweler. From the age of fourteen to twenty he studied at the School of Plastic Art in Vienna. From the age of eighteen he, his brother Ernst and Franz Matsch undertook commissions for decorative works.

In 1897 he became the first President of the Vienna Secession. Influenced first by Makart, he turned away from him after a trip to Vienna where he discovered Byzantine mosaics. In 1912, he withdrew from the Secession and became President of the Austrian National Union of Artists. In 1917, he was granted an honorary professorship at the Viennese Academy.

Klimt was a burly, handsome, bearded man often photographed in his studio wearing a caftan. A mix of eroticism and death imagery runs through many of his canvases. In his later years, Klimt became a much sought-after portrait painter. Many of these portraits combined naturalistic studies of the power and sensuality of the model's face with the most implausble dress and ornamentation.

Austria's parliament recently enacted a law providing for the return of Jewish-owned artworks plundered by the Nazis; among them are several well-known portraits. The families of the original owners have been engaged in long periods of litigation, hoping to receive restitution, or the actual return of the art-works which are currently hung in (among other places) Vienna's Austrian National Gallery.

Emilie Floge, a dress shop owner whose portrait he painted, was his mistress for the last two decades of his life. When he was carried home with a stroke in 1918, he called out "Get Emilie here," and died in her presence.


Written and submitted by Jean Ershler Schatz, Artist and Researcher from Laguna Woods, California.

Sources include:
From the internet, ArtMagick.com and WebMuseum.Paris
LA Times, Calendar Section, Sunday, December 20, 1998

Biography from Auctionata:
Please note: Artists not classified as American in our database may have limited biographical data compared to the extensive information about American artists.

Gustav Klimt was supposed to become gold engraver like his father, but thanks to a scholarship he was allowed to study at the Vienna School of Applied Arts.  In 1891, he became a member of the Wiener Künstlerhaus.   After he left, he became the co-founder and temporarily president of the Vienna Secession, for whose journal he provided numerous designs and illustrations.

Klimt was a close friend of Josef Hoffmann and Koloman Moser, the founders of the Wiener Werkstätte.  Thus he was commissioned to design the famous frieze in the dining room of the Stoclet Palais in Brussels.  Between 1907 and 1908, Klimt created his most famous painting ‘The Kiss’.

Klimt was one of the most controversial, but also most popular artists of the turn of the century.  Although his works were initially dismissed as decorative painting, he is now considered one of the quintessential forerunners of modernism.  His works are part of major museum collections, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the MoMA, the Tate Gallery, the Belvedere and the Secession in Vienna.

In 2006, the portrait ‘Adele Bloch-Bauer I’ was purchased  for the record price of 135 million dollars, the hitherto highest price ever paid for a painting.

Biography from Galerie St. Etienne:
Please note: Artists not classified as American in our database may have limited biographical data compared to the extensive information about American artists.

Given the heights to which he would rise in the Viennese art world, Gustav Klimt's beginnings were hardly auspicious.  The son of a poor Bohemian goldsmith, Klimt grew up with his brothers, Ernst and Georg, and sisters, Klara, Hermine and Johanna, in the tenements of what is today Vienna's 14th District.  (A fourth sister, Anna, died at the age of five when Gustav was twelve.)  By the time Gustav reached adolescence, his family's always precarious financial situation had worsened, and it was clear that he and his two younger brothers would have to support the others. Gustav, whose artistic talent was already evident, therefore applied not to the prestigious Academy of Fine Arts, where the leading artists and architects taught and studied, but to the more commercially oriented Kunstgewerbeschule (School of Applied Arts).  Klimt initially planned to become a drawing instructor, but after he had completed the preliminary coursework, the Director of the Kunstgewerbeschule encouraged him to instead join the department of figural drawing and painting. Although the normal program of study at the Kunstgewerbeschule comprised two to three years, Klimt remained there an astonishing seven years.

The Kunstgewerbeschule afforded invaluable professional contacts, and Klimt began earning a living as an artist years before he left the school.  As early as 1879, he began collaborating with his younger brother Ernst (who had entered the Kunstgewerbeschule two years after he did) and another fellow student, Franz Matsch.  The trio eventually established a formal workshop, which they dubbed the Künstler-Compagnie der Gebrüder Klimt und Matsch (Artists' Company, Klimt Brothers and Matsch).  At the time, the Austrian government, bolstered by a protracted economic boom, was sponsoring new public works all over the Empire. This building program-crowned by the grand edifices along Vienna's fabled Ringstrasse-generated a wealth of commissions for artists.  Through the Kunstgewerbeschule, the Künstler-Compagnie gained entrée into this lucrative realm.

The trio began by designing curtains and murals for a provincial theaters, and gradually gained access to the studio of Hans Makart, Vienna's reigning art star.  A favorite of the Imperial court, Makart was not only a sought-after society portraitist, but also a popular sensation, whose monumental canvases drew thousands of viewers and who was frequently called upon to create elaborate wall decorations for the new Ringstrasse buildings.  Shortly before Makart's death in 1884, the Künstler-Compagnie was invited to help complete one of his last, unfinished projects: the murals for the quarters of the Empress Elizabeth at the Hermesvilla in the Lainzer Tiergarten.  The Hermesvilla murals proved decisive for the Künstler-Compagnie. Not only was this their first significant Imperial commission, but it brought them to the attention of the Emperor's favorite architect, Karl von Hasenauer.  Hasenauer was responsible for the Künstler-Compagnie's first major Viennese assignment, a cycle of paintings for the new Burgtheater.  Klimt received the Emperor's Golden Order of Merit for his contributions to this project in 1888, and a second prestigious commission in the Imperial capital followed soon thereafter. I n 1890 the Künstler-Compagnie was asked to complete the staircase decorations for the Kunsthistorisches Museum, another of Makart's unfinished assignments.  In scarcely ten years, the Künstler-Compagnie had made it from the provinces to the big time. Blessed with Imperial patronage and, symbolically, with the mantel of the revered Makart, the members of the Künstler-Compagnie seemed poised to become the darlings of the Austrian establishment. 

As it transpired, however, this honor was accorded to only one of the three: Franz Matsch, who developed a sizable following among the aristocracy and was himself ennobled in 1912.  By this time, Ernst Klimt was long dead, and Gustav's career had taken a very different turn.  Stunned by Ernst's death from pericarditis in 1892, Gustav entered a period of artistic withdrawal that strained his relationship with Franz more or less to the breaking point.  With the Künstler-Compagnie in shambles, Klimt nevertheless agreed in 1893 to share one final assignment with Matsch, a series of murals for the University of Vienna.  The University project proved decisive in confirming Klimt's break with the conventional, establishment scene represented by Matsch and the Künstler-Compagnie.  Each artist was to execute a series of canvases, depicting various of the University faculties, to be installed on the ceiling of the school's auditorium.  Working independently from Matsch on his three given subjects, Philosophy, Medicine and Jurisprudence, Klimt produced a group of canvases that precipitated a scandal unlike anything ever before experienced in the staid Imperial capital.  When Klimt's canvases were first publicly exhibited, the absence of mollifying historical or literary references, combined with the nudity and in some cases blatant ugliness of the figures, scandalized the critics.

After enduring years of protracted protests from journalists and University professors, Klimt finally in 1905 renounced the commission.  Klimt's changing allegiances were further evidenced by his role in the founding of the Vienna Secession in 1897 and of the Wiener Werkstätte in 1903.  The artists of the Secession, though representing disparate stylistic points of view, were united in their opposition to the conservative policies of the Secession's predecessor, the Künstlerhaus (at the time the only venue for the exhibition of contemporary art in Vienna).  The Secessionists sought to revitalize Austrian art through exchanges with foreign colleagues and by promoting a more organic integration of the fine and applied arts. This latter approach found its ultimate flowering in the Wiener Werkstätte, a design collective established by the designers Josef Hoffmann and Koloman Moser, and the financier Fritz Wärndorfer. From the outset, Klimt associated less with other painters at the Secession than with the faction that came to be known as the "Stylists": those, like Hoffmann and Moser, whose primary interest was design and the applied arts.  The fact that the Secession included architects and artisans, as well as fine artists, and on occasion exhibited crafts, constituted a highly unusual mingling of "high" and "low" art forms.  Not surprisingly, friction soon developed between the Stylists and the "Naturalists," as the opponents to Klimt's clique came to be called.

The conflict between these two factions involved both aesthetics and money.  Led by the painter Joseph Englehart, the Naturalists favored a far more traditional approach to painting.  While they did not object to the applied arts per se, they drew the line at the full merger of craft and art advocated by the Stylists.  Furthermore, the Naturalists resented the broadened economic base which the Wiener Werkstätte afforded their rivals.  And Englehart's group felt that the Stylists' association, through the Secession artist Carl Moll, with the commercial Galerie Miethke constituted an unacceptable conflict of interest.  This last issue caused the so-called Klimt-Gruppe to sever its ties with the Secession in 1905. 

After the Secession split, Klimt's sole significant organizational affiliation was with the Wiener Werkstätte.  For the most part, he retreated into the private sphere, seeking support from sympathetic patrons.  Although he still believed that the creation of grand allegorical canvases was the highest goal of art, the majority of his later paintings are either landscapes (mostly done while on vacation on the Attersee near Salzburg) or portraits of society ladies. On two occasions, however, Klimt reverted to his former leadership role within the Viennese artistic community: he was a key collaborator in the organization of the 1908 and 1909 "Kunstschauen" (Art Shows), the last large-scale gatherings of cutting-edge domestic and foreign art held in Vienna before World War I.  Through the Kunstschauen and also through personal contacts, Klimt was known as a tireless champion and advocate of younger artists, most notably Oskar Kokoschka and Egon Schiele.  Klimt's premature death in 1918, from pneumonia following a stroke, was mourned by the entire Austrian art world.

Biography from Borghi Fine Art:
Please note: Artists not classified as American in our database may have limited biographical data compared to the extensive information about American artists.

Gustav Klimt was born on July 14, 1862, in Baumgarten, Austria, the second seven children, the son of a poor jewelry engraver.  It is only at the age of fourteen, after he enters the University of Plastic Arts in Vienna, that he begins developing his talent as an artist; he studied at the University until graduating at the age of twenty, at which time he had been commissioned to create several decorative works, making use of his training in modernist craftsmanship.  He then founded the Kunstlercompanie (Company of Artists) studio with his brother Ernst, and Franz Matsch, a fellow student.  The three found much success as mural painters, getting contracts from museums, theaters, and other decorative artwork for wealthy patrons.  The company eventually ceased to exist, following the death of Ernst, and a falling out with Franz Matsch.

During his years as a decorator, Klimt finely honed his personal style, which was a product of his artistic training, and the engraving skills his father had taught him.  Klimt's paintings often included gold and silver paint, metal, and ceramics, and as much attention was given to ornamental details as to their subjects.  Very few of Klimt's paintings were done on canvases, as he preferred to paint murals.  Klimt also found inspiration in Byzantine mosaics, which he discovered while exploring Vienna.

In 1897, Gustav Klimt took an interest in politics and rallied other artists to found the Vienna Sezession, a Art Nouveau movement whose goal was to give young, innovative artists a chance to get exposure, and to revolt against the conservative attitudes of the academic art world.  He organized several exhibits, attracting thousands from around the world to view their revolutionary art, and even published Ver Sacrum, a monthly magazine about the movement and its artists.  His own personal style came to represent the movement's aesthetics, and in 1902, he painted the Beethoven Fries, a mural for the Sezession building.

In 1905, following a series of disagreements with other members of the Sezession several others leave the group, and form a new association called the Kunstschau (Art Show).  His famous painting, The Kiss, was created between 1907 and 1908, but it is still associated with the Sezession.  Klimt was a very popular artist, but he was also quite controversial.  He was renowned for his womanizing, and often used prostitutes as models.  Many of his works were considered too sensual for the mores of early 20th Century Vienna, and even his more historical, or mythical works featuring nudes were often criticized for being too erotic.  Fortunately, the scandals only served to heighten Klimt's international recognition, if not his notoriety.

Klimt often traveled to the outskirts of Vienna and the Italian countryside, finding inspiration in nature, particularly autumnal landscapes, which already showed the rich golden hues of his own decorative designs.  From the opulence of the Viennese Bourgeoisie to the mythological, from eroticism to the simple beauty of nature, Klimt's artwork always maintained its highly stylized feel, but what remains one of its most fascinating traits is that while concentrating on the superficial, its depth cannot be ignored.

In 1917, he was made an honorary member the Viennese Academy of Fine Arts. On January 11th of the following year, at the age of 55, Gustav Klimt suffered a stroke while working in his apartment.  Weakened from the stroke, and suffering from pneumonia, he died less than a month later, on February 6th, 1918.

Biography from Acquisitions Of Fine Art:
Please note: Artists not classified as American in our database may have limited biographical data compared to the extensive information about American artists.

Gustav Klimt was born as the son of a gold and silver engraver in a suburb of Vienna. He had a formal art training at the Vienna School of Decorative Arts. In 1882, Klimt opened a studio of his own with his brother Ernst and Franz Matsch, a fellow student. They specialized on executing mural paintings. They were quite successful from the beginning and received commissions from theaters, museums and other public and semi-public institutions.

In 1897 Gustav Klimt founded with other artists the Vienna Secession and became its first president. By that time Klimt had developed his own and characteristic style, which should became the trademark of the movement. Like impressionism, art nouveau was an International revolt against the traditional academic art style
Gustav Klimt's style is highly ornamental, and he used a lot of gold and silver colors in his art work.

Inspired by an eclectic scope of influences, including Egyptian, Classical Greek, Byzantine and Medieval styles, he primarily produced extravagant paintings and murals that were explicitly expressing themes of regeneration, love and death. His works often utilized symbolic elements to emphasize the freedom of art from traditional culture.

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