Gustav Klimt Biography

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A Biography on Klimt From around 1900 until his death in 1918, Gustav Klimt dominated the art scene in the capital empire of Austro-Hungary. He was born on July 14, 1962 in Baumgarten, near Vienna. Gustav Klimt was the second of seven children of a meticulous but poor engraver and carver. His brother Ernest, who could have been as talented as Gustav had he not died so young, worked with his brother until death. His brother Georg was a talented sculptor, carver and designer who made many of the frames for Gustav’s paintings.

The Klimt’s were very poor, so they had frequent changes in address in search of progressively cheaper accommodation. In 1873, the situation became worse because of the economic crisis in Austria and so his father had no income for some time. At school, Klimt’s talent was greatly appreciated, and one of his relatives suggested to his mother that he should apply to the School of Arts and Crafts in Vienna at the age of fourteen. For seven years he learned, together with his brother Ernest and Franz Matsch, the most diverse mosaics to fresco.

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The trio was so talented their professors let them work on their own decoration projects. Klimt’s style in those days was hyper realistic, inspired by the work of Hans Makart, one of the most famous painters of the day. There were several paintings that announced a change in Klimt’s career. The first was a work that Klimt produced for the rich industrialist Nikolaus Dumba. In 1899 he asked Makart, Matsch and Klimt to decorate three rooms in his villa. Klimt was responsible for the music room and he painted music and Shubert at the piano.

Klimt, who had previously worked hard to please the public, now acknowledged no standards but his own. In 1892 Klimt and Matsch were commissioned by the Ministry of Culture and Education to decorate the great hall of the university, representing the four traditional faculties: Theology, Philosophy Jurisprudence and Medicine. Klimt presented Philosophy to the critics and public in general, which were disappointed and offended by this first panel. Klimt provoked new scandals with his allegories of Medicine and Jurisprudence, the second and the third of his paintings for the faculty.

Congress conducted a poll and Klimt was incriminated for “pornography” and “excessive perversion”. However, he was not intimidated by the intense opposition. Instead, Klimt painted goldfish. The painting only increased general criticism. It is dominated by a naked female showing her behind to the spectator. It is said that Klimt wanted to call the painting “to my critics” which is easy to believe. The scandal the university project provoked made him realise public assignments were not compatible with his artistic freedom.

These paintings were his last government commissions, signifying a radical change in his career. From this moment on Klimt unwillingly became a rebel. From 1891 until 1897, Klimt had been a member of the Cooperative Society of Artists, a very conservative organisation, and membership was essential to every artist determined to make a living. In 1897 Klimt and other members thought that this society had exerted an unfortunate influence on Austrian art and so they formed their own group named the Association of Austrian Visual Artists, widely known as Secession.

The Secession had three main aims: provide to young artists with regular opportunities to exhibit their work; to bring Vienna the best foreign artists; and to publish its own magazine, Ver Sacrum. The Secession adopted Pallas Athene as their protectress. In this painting a new element such as the use of gold and the transformation of anatomy into ornament will determine Klimt’s later work. The Viennese Secession played a central role in the development and diffusion of modernism in painting and in the field of applied arts such as a stylistic counter current against the official academic school and bourgeois conservatism of the time.

This rebellion was so powerful its immediate success was translated into utopic enterprise: the transformation of society through art. Klimt was a regular collaborator in the Secession magazine Ver Sacrum. The movement enabled the construction of the building for the secession, designed by the architect Joseph Maria Olbrich. Klimt’s utopic generation believed that only art could save people, thus the period’s tendency for uniting art. Klimt’s golden age began with a portrait of Fritza Riedler, painted in 1906, and ended with a portrait of Adele

Bloch-Bauer, painted in 1907. Klimt’s work exemplifies the encounter between the old art of the previous century and the new art of the XXth century. One of his greatest contributions to the new era was, more than expressionism and surrealism and sexuality in art. Klimt found his way to landscape painting late in life, the first known landscapes date from the years 1898- 1900, strangely Klimt did not draw sketches or studies for landscapes as he did for his portraits.

Klimt’s golden style lost its lustre with the beginning of expressionism, since the use of gold forced a rigid stylization that made any psychological expression impossible. Gustav Klimt never married or committed to one woman, he did have numerous lovers and seemed to have an insatiable sexual appetite. At the time artists models were looked upon with little more respect than common prostitutes and apparently many of those who posed for Klimt were at one time or another his lovers.

After Klimt’s death at least 14 people came forth and claimed to be his natural children. At least three of these children had been recognised by Klimt himself during his lifetime. In 1918 Klimt suffered a stroke and it paralysed the right side of his body including his right hand which he used for painting, but it did not deprive him of the power of speech. Less than a month later, Klimt was struck by the pneumonia epidemic ravaging Vienna at the time and died on February 6 1918.

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