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Gustav Klimt, Fine Artist

Updated on April 23, 2012
This is a photo of print of Gustav Klimt's "L'Amour" (Love) that hangs in my living room.
This is a photo of print of Gustav Klimt's "L'Amour" (Love) that hangs in my living room. | Source

Gustav Klimt is a famous fine artist born in Baumgarten, in the Austrian Empire on July 14, 1862. He died in Vienna, Austria-Hungary, on February 6, 1918 at the ripe old age of 55 years. He did a lot in his lifetime, considering he started from practically nothing at all. He was the second child in family of seven children; his father was a poor immigrant, formerly from Bohemia; but Ernest Klimt the Elder was also a very talented gold engraver. Artistry ran in this family; both Gustav's younger brothers were fine artists.

In 1876, at the age of 14 years, Gustav Klimt was awarded a scholarship to the very prestigious Vienna School of Arts, where he studied architectural painting. Gustav Klimt's early work was competent but conformist, and really, frankly, not very interesting; though his training served him well in that it gave him the necessary entree into the European art world and contact with artists who were just beginning to experiment with impressionism, cubism and surrealism.

Adele Bloch-Bauer I.  1907.  This painting sold for a record 135 million United States dollars, the highest price ever paid for a painting, in 2006.
Adele Bloch-Bauer I. 1907. This painting sold for a record 135 million United States dollars, the highest price ever paid for a painting, in 2006.
Judith-I, 1901 oil on canvas.
Judith-I, 1901 oil on canvas.

Mr. Klimt, together with his brother Ernst and their friend Franz Matsch began working together, accepting commissions for large murals in the museums of Vienna. Klimt's early professional career was predominantly very large works, using the conventional techniques of the time, in public buildings in Vienna.

Gustav Klimt was awarded the Golden Order of Merit from Emperor Franz Josef I of Austria for his murals painted on the walls of the Burgtheater in Vienna. Mr. Klimt also received two honorary professorships: of the University of Munich and also of the University of Vienna.

So, in the midst of this thrilling and remunerative professional success, tragedy struck. Gustav Klimt lost both his brother Ernst, his soul brother, and his father Ernst. They both died in 1892.

Gustav assumed responsibility for the families of both men. He was in a position to, being a very highly successful and respected artist and having the patronage of the Emperor.

Now, Mr. Klimt is most famous for his later painting of women. They are beautiful, frankly erotic, and profoundly sensitive. They are also covered in gold; maybe it was his father's legacy to Gustav Klimt.

Klimt became an artist ahead of his time, in many respects. He was the founding member and president of a group called (in English) the Vienna Secession, who widened the scope of fine art in Vienna to include much work of foreign modern artists; no modern style was excluded, so it became the patron of an eclectic collection of art and artists.

His new work was panned by the critical communities. It was considered too sexually explicit, even pornographic, for public buildings. However, over time, the critical community caught up with the artistic community, and Gustav Klimt's "Golden phase" where he used gold leaf in his paintings, was very much a critical success.

Gustav Klimt's home life was quiet. He was a quiet and unassuming man, wearing a simple robe and sandals as his working gear. He much preferred a quiet, rather bucolic existence in the bosom of his family in his later years, though his earlier years were marked by more than one extramarital affair. Mr. Klimt was discrete about these love affairs; they never exploded into open scandal. Gustav Klimt fathered fourteen children, total.

He said about himself: "There is nothing special about me. I am a painter who paints from morning to night..."

We should all be so not-special. In 2006, the 1907 portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I sold for a record 135 million US dollars, the highest reported price ever paid for a painting.

Gustav Klimt died on February 6, 1918, at the age of 55, from a stroke and pnuemonia. He is buried at the Hietzing Cemetery in Vienna.


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