Wednesday, 13 March 2013

Klimt The Lover

He was one of Austria's pivotal artists of the later 19th Century, founder of the Secession movement, an amoral man who fathered possibly as many as fourteen children (none in wedlock, as he never married).His painting, Der Küss (The Kiss), is one of the most famous and instantly recognisable in the world. Yet, surprisingly little is really known about Klimt the man. What there is tends to be shrouded in conjecture and open to wild speculation.

Adele Bloch-Bauer I by Klimt
He made much of  his money by painting rich women in Viennese society. Their husbands were only to open their wallets for him. The wives may well have opened much more! Alma Schindler and Adele Bloch-Bauer - to name but two - probably shared his bed, although it's by no means certain whether his companion from 1890 until his death at the untimely age of 55 in 1918 ever did. Her name was Emilie Flöge and whether she was his mistress or just a very good friend is a secret both took with them to their graves. 

Alma Schindler (later wife of Mahler)
Gustav Klimt was born in Baumgarten, a suburb of Vienna, in 1862 and never moved far away. He was the badly educated son of a gold engraver who went onto influence an entire art movement, and his favoured attire consisted of a collection of floppy smocks under which he wore no underwear. It would seem he was possessed of a certain animal magnetism and women appeared to find him irresistable. So, what did he look like? Tall, dark, sexy?

Er - well no actually. He was short, dark and chubby. On the plus side (from my point of view), he was a great cat lover and always kept a few around him.

Much of his work is overtly erotic and nothing was taboo. Hundreds of his drawings exist portraying women masturbating and nude Lesbian couples. He detested censors and believed in the artist's right to freedom of expression. Small wonder then that he was a leading light of the Secession movement in Vienna, helping to create the wonderful building that now houses his famous Beethoven Frieze as well as a number of exhibitions. 

He never painted a self-portrait, proclaiming himself to be unimportant as a potential subject. Similarly, there are few photographs of him but my favourite is this one. His smile is warm and it's quite clear that, for him, the main subject of this photograph is his little feline companion. I'm beginning to understand a little of why those women fell for him! 

I have stood in front of Der Küss on many occasions. It is indeed as golden as you would imagine, although I remember when I saw it the first time, I was disappointed that it was much smaller than I had imagined. It is by no means my favourite Klimt painting either but there is no escaping its power and magnetism. The sensuous embrace - the man enfolding his lover while she, eyes closed, gives herself up willingly to his embrace. I find it sexually charged. Looking at it, you feel like a voyeur intruding on an intensely private, passionate moment. Their love is displayed for all to see.

Emilie Flöge by Klimt
Klimt, on the other hand, preferred to keep us guessing.


  1. Adore GK. The metallics he infused throughout his pieces are remarkable.