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The Golden Age of Russian Impressionism

Gustav Klimt (July 14, 1862 - February 6, 1918)

Gustav Klimt
Gustav Klimt
(July 14, 1862 - February 6, 1918)
      geometric shapes, mystic subjects Art Work
Name: Gustav Klimt
Gender: Male
Place of Birth: Baumgarten, Austrian Empire
Nationality: Austrian
Birth: July 14, 1862
Death: February 6, 1918
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   Quick Facts
Known For: geometric shapes, mystic subjects
Medium: oil painting
Method: oil painting
Style: Symbolism, Art Nouveau
Fine Art Profession(s): Painter

Gustav Klimt (1862-1918) was one of the most innovative and controversial artists of the early twentieth century. Born in 1862 the son of an engraver, Klimt attended the Kunstgewerbeschule (School of Arts and Crafts) in Vienna for seven years starting in 1876. In 1879 he formed with his brother Ernst and a co-student, Franz Matsch (1861-1942), a studio where they executed designs primarily of other artists--for instance, the graffiti designs of Laufberger for the Art Historical Museum and for Hans Makart (1840-1884). In 1886 their own designs for the decorations of the staircases for the Burgtheater were given a prize, and in 1890 Klimt received the Emperor's Prize for painting. In 1892 his brother Ernst died. In 1893 Klimt was nominated for professor at the Vienna Academy but was rejected. In 1894 he obtained the commission to paint the wall decorations for the great hall of the University of Vienna and at the sam.

In the 1880s and 1890s he produced murals for public buildings -- including Vienna's Burgtheater and new Kunsthistorisches Museum (Art History Museum) -- in the prevailing classical-realist style. Klimt's style grew increasingly experimental, however, and his murals for Vienna University, commissioned by the State in 1894, were roundly attacked by critics for their fantastical imagery and their bold, decorative style. Partly in response to this reaction, in 1897 Klimt helped form the Secession, a group of artists dedicated to challenging the conservative Academy of Fine Arts.

Influenced by European avant-garde movements represented in the annual Secession exhibitions, Klimt's mature style combined richly decorative surface patterning with complex symbolism and allegory, often with overtly erotic content. After 1900 he concentrated on portraits and landscapes, although he also produced two of his greatest murals during this period -- The Beethoven Frieze, exhibited at the Secession in 1902, and decorations for the Palais Stoclet in Brussels (1904-1911). Klimt spent most of his summers on the Attersee, near Salzburg, where he drew inspiration for many of his landscapes, and where he painted some of his best-known works, including The Kiss of 1907-8.

From 1876 to 1883 Gustav Klimt attended the Vienna School of Arts and Crafts and from 1879 he started working with his brother Ernst Klimt on decorative paintings, designed for public buildings in Vienna, Bucharest and Rijeka. In 1897 Klimt was one of the founding members of the Vienna Secession. He was chairman until he resigned in 1905. Gustav Klimt created a new and highly individual style in the Austrian art world. He broke with the conventional academic ideals. Especially his later work is defined by the use of intensive colors, golden backgrounds, ornamental layouts, erotic elements and heavy symbolism. Although his work was controversal, he had a strong influence on the cultural world of his time and established himself as a very popular painter in the Viennese society. The majority of his works now reside in Vienna's museums.

His major works include paintings, murals, sketches and other art objects, many of which are on display in the Vienna Secession gallery. At the personal request of John D. Rockefeller, Klimt designed the seal of the University of Chicago in 1907, despite having never visited the United States. Klimt was one of the founding members of the so-called Wiener Sezession (Vienna Secession) and of the periodical "Ver Sacrum". His work is distinguished by an elegant use of gold backgrounds and mosaic patterns. This can be seen in Judith I (1901, visible at right) and in The Kiss (1907). Art historians have noted a highly eclectic range of influences contributing to Klimt's distinct style, including Egyptian, Minoan, Classical Greek, and Byzantine inspirations. Klimt was also inspired by engravings of Albrecht Durer, late medieval European painting, and Japanese woodcuts ("Ukiyo-e"). Klimt left the Sezession movement in 1908. He died in Vienna of pneumonia and was interred at the Hietzing Cemetery, Vienna.

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