Monday, March 25, 2013

Klimt, Gustav

Portrait of Helene Klimt (his niece)
oil on cardboard
60 x 40 cm
Museum of Fine Arts Berne, Switzerland, loan from private owner

The portrait of Helene Klimt shows the 6 year old niece of Klimt. He was the legal guardian of Helene. The composition is influenced by James Whistler.

"I have never painted a self-portrait. I am less interested in myself as a subject for a painting than I am in other people, above all women...There is nothing special about me. I am a painter who paints day after day from morning to night...Who ever wants to know something about me... ought to look carefully at my pictures." (Klimt)

Gustav Klimt (1862 - 1918) was an Austrian Symbolist painter and one of the most prominent members of the Vienna Secession movement. He was born in Baumgarten, near Vienna, Austria, the second of seven children. His father was a gold engraver and his mother had unrealized ambition to be a musical performer. He was educated at the Vienna Kunstgewerbe Art School. He lived in poverty for most of his childhood, as work was scarce and the economy difficult for immigrants.

Klimt's major works include paintings, murals, sketches, and other art objects. His primary subject was the female body, and his works are marked by a frank eroticism. His work is distinguished by an elegant use of gold backgrounds and mosaic patterns. His elaborate, explicitly sensual works expressed themes of regeneration, love and death, and incorporated Egyptian, Classical Greek, Byzantine and Medieval styles. He was also inspired by engravings of Albrecht Durer, late medieval European painting, and Japanese Ukiyo-e. In synthesizing these diverse sources, his art achieved both individuality and extreme elegance. Throughout his life, although he was a controversial painter due to his subject matter, he was made an honorary member of the Universities of Vienna and of Munich. He was also a founding member and president of the Vienna Secession, which sought to create a platform for new and unconventional artists, bring new artists to Vienna, and created a magazine to showcase its member’ work.

Klimt lived a simple, cloistered life, in which he avoided other artists and cafe society. He often wore a long robe, sandals, and no undergarments. He also had many discreet affairs with women, and fathered at least 14 children. This may be an indication of his passion for women, their form and sexuality, which was the main focus of many of his works. The majority of his paintings were characterized by golden or colored swirling designs, spirals, and phallic shapes, depicting dominant women in erotic positions.

Klimt died of pneumonia in the influenza epidemic of 1918 and was interred at the Hietzing Cemetery, Vienna. He continued painting until the very end and many of his final works remained unfinished, leaving behind a posthumous legacy that few artists can rival. Laying the groundwork for Art Deco and Modernism, his creative influence can still be seen in today’s art, decorations and jewelry. Klimt's paintings have brought in the highest amounts ever paid at auction.