Gustav Klimt – Who is he?

We have had so much interest in our Gustav Klimt products, that I thought it wise to shed more light on him.

Klimt’s major works include paintings, murals, sketches, and other art objects, many of which are on display in the Vienna Secession gallery. His main subject was the female body, and his works are marked by a frank eroticism. 

Early years

Gustav Klimt was born in 1862 in Baumgarten, near Vienna, and became one of the most famous Austrian Artists.  He was one of seven children and came from an artistic family.  He studied at an art school, the Vienna Kunstgewerbeschule between 1876 to 1883.

 gustav klimt Gustav Klimt - Image from Wiki Commons

Academic Painter

He was an Art Nouveau and Symbolist painter but did not develop his own style from the beginning of his career.  He followed conservative academic teachings and admired Austrian academic history painter Hans Makart (1840-1884).  Makart was known as “magician of color”.   Makart’s love of pageantry and decoration made an indelible impact upon Klimt.  He reportedly admired Makart so much, that he once slipped into the painter’s studio to see his latest works by bribing Makart’s servants.

Gustav, his brother, Ernst, and a friend, Franz Matsch formed a small company that specialized in architectural paintings, the subject he studied at art school.

Some of their work included murals at the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna and the buildings that were constructed during the 19th century on the Ringstraße.  In 1888, Emperor Franz Josef I of Austria awarded Klimt the Golden Order of Merit in recognition of his paintings at Vienna’s Burg theater.

burg theatreOld Burgtheater in Vienna (1888)  - Image from Wiki Commons

Tragedy made him change his style

In 1892, when Gustav was in his early 30’s, both his father and his brother Ernst died unexpectedly, leaving him financially responsible for their families. During the period of grief that followed, Klimt began to re-evaluate his artistic career and question the principles of academic painting. With Ernst gone and a stylistic rift growing between Klimt and Matsch, their company dissolved.  After this tragedy, he completely changed his style to be based on personal feelings rather than academic accuracy, which it was before.

Klimt did one last commission with Matsch in 1894 for the ceiling of the Great Hall of the University of Vienna.

He was responsible for three panels: Philosophy, Medicine and Jurisprudence. His paintings were never installed at the university.  Medicine (1901) provoked controversy for its obscure symbolism and erotic images and was criticized as pornographic. Klimt was infuriated, declaring: “Enough of censorship…I refuse every form of support from the state, I’ll do without all of it.”  Unfortunately, none of the paintings survived as all three were destroyed when retreating German SS forces set fire to Schloss Immendorf castle in 1945 where it was kept.

gustav Klimt Medicine /Jurisprudence /Philosophie - (1899 - 1907) - Image from Wiki Commons

Golden Phase

During the early 20th century, Klimt started to receive praise for his work and his critics were silenced when the era of Modern Art was entered.

Klimt used gold leaf in his artwork, therefore the name “Golden Phase” is used to describe this period in his career. He already met his lifelong girlfriend, Austrian fashion designer Emilie Louise Flöge (1874-1952), in the early 1890s, and she was the model of many of his works. 

Some of the most famous works that he created during the height of his career are called “Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I” (1907) and “The Kiss” (1907–08), and both presumably feature Emilie Louise Flöge.

gustav klimtPortrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I (1907) and  The Kiss (1907–08) - Image from Rawpixel

Love for women

Klimt had many lovers, and it is claimed that he fathered 14 children though he never married. He tried to keep his affairs discreet and avoid personal scandal. However, it is widely believed that his studio, where he often painted in a flowing caftan with nothing underneath, served as the site for numerous relationships.

Nazi’s stole his art

The Czechoslovakian sugar magnate Ferdinand Bloch-Bauer owned five Klimt paintings, including two portraits of his wife, Adele.  After the invasions of Czechoslovakia and Austria in 1938, their assets became the target of Nazi pillaging.  Bloch-Bauer’s niece, Maria Altmann, filed a lawsuit in 2000 to recover the paintings from the Austrian government and it came before the Supreme Court in 2004.  The outcome was successful.

In 2006, Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I was sold for the record-breaking sum of $135 million to cosmetics heir Ronald Lauder, who made it the showpiece of the Neue Galerie collection. The case is depicted in the 2015 film Woman in Gold, starring Helen Mirren as Maria Altmann.

Some more interesting facts about Gustav Klimt

  • His work “Death and Life” (1911) received the first prize at the “International Exhibition of Art” in Rome in 1911, a world fair that celebrated the 50th anniversary of the Unification of Italy.
  • The “Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I” and the “Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer II” were both sold in 2006 for $135 million and $88 million respectively. The latter was bought by Oprah Winfrey, the famous American television personality.
  • Oprah Winfrey sold “Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer II” for a massive $150 million in 2016. The buyer of the 1912 artwork was an unknown Chinese person.
  • Gustav Klimt died in 1918, at the age of 55, when the Spanish flu pandemic reached Vienna. There died over 20 million people in Europe during this devastating tragedy in human history.

 gustav klimtDeath and Life (1911) - Image from Rawpixel


"Whoever wants to know something about me— as an artist, the only notable thing—ought to look carefully at my pictures and try to see in them what I am and what I want to do."



Vanderweide, Z (2019, March 12).21 Facts Gustav Klimt. Sotheby's Blog.

Shelley, R (2021, December 3).Top 12 Interesting Facts About Gustav Klimt. Art Facts blog.


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