Gustav Klimt

gigatos | December 29, 2021


Gustav Klimt (July 14, 1862, Tsisleitania, Austrian Empire or Vienna, Vienna) – Austrian painter and decorator, one of the most prominent representatives of the Viennese Art Nouveau. Painter and graphic artist, master of architectural interior decoration. One of the founders of the Vienna Secession and participant of the Vienna Workshops. His stylization, symbolism and eroticism characterize his monumental and decorative works.

The artistic legacy of Gustav Klimt combines several very different styles: the detached and at the same time sensual formal language of historicism, the symbolism of colors and lines of the early Secession, the monumental austerity and rich ornamentation of the “golden period” and the looseness of colors and brushwork of the mature artist. Klimt”s diversity reflects his openness to new impressions and the radical renewal of Vienna”s cultural and artistic society, of which he was a key figure. Gustav Klimt”s creative life took place in the specific spiritual atmosphere of the Austrian capital and in the most interesting and contemporary era in the history of European culture of the fin de siècle, when Viennese Art Nouveau was emerging.


Gustav Klimt was born in the Vienna suburb of Baumgarten at 247 Linzer Straße. His father Ernst Klimt (1834-1892) came from a peasant family in Bohemia, having moved from Travčice near Litoměřice to Vienna when he was eight years old, and was engaged in engraving and jewelry making. His mother Anna Klimt (1836-1915), born Finster, a native Viennese, dreamed of a career as an opera singer in her youth. Anna Klimt was described as a cheerful and gentle woman, and Gustav inherited his hot temperament from his father. Gustav was the second child and eldest son in the Klimt family that raised seven children. His older sister Clara (she did not marry, and together with her mother and younger sister Hermine, they were the family in which Gustav lived his entire life. Gustav was very attached to his younger brother Ernst (1864-1892), who was also fond of painting. His second sister Hermine (1865-1938) also had no family, devoted herself to taking care of her brother Gustav”s household, and left diary entries that are an important source of information about him. His second brother George (1867-1931) also devoted himself to art and became a successful metal artist and medallist with the support of his older brother. After Georg, the Klimts had a sickly daughter, Anna (1869-1874), whose death shocked her mother. The seventh child Johanna (1873-1950) became the only one of the Klimt daughters to create her own family. Married to the accountant Julius Zimpel, she had four children, one of whom, Julius, inherited the family gift of art and became an illustrator and calligrapher.

The Klimt family lived poorly. According to extant documents, for example, in July-August 1889 Ernst Klimt earned less than 8 guilders, while the salary of a skilled worker was 40 guilders. Earnings father was often not enough to pay for housing and meals, the family often had to move from one lucrative home to another. According to the recollections of Hermine”s sister, the Klimts did not always have bread on the table at Christmas, let alone presents. Financial tensions eased only after the sons began to earn their own money. Gustav Klimt, rather a loner by nature, as Hermine Klimt testified, very much loved and valued his family, especially in his mature years, with the advent of popularity, coupled with harsh criticism, the family became for him a kind of hortus conclusus, where he could find the desired peace and solitude. After the death of his father and brother Ernst in 1892, Gustav became the main breadwinner in the family and took over the care of Ernst”s widow Helene (1871-1936) and niece Helene (1892-1980). The death of his dear brother plunged Klimt into a carefully concealed depression that would not recede for years. The tragic events of 1892 brought Gustav Klimt closer to his sister-in-law, Helene”s younger sister, the young Emilie Flöge.

Arts and Crafts School and Association of Artists

After seven years at the city school in Baumgarten, in 1876 the 14-year-old Gustav Klimt enrolled as a drawing teacher at the Viennese Art and Crafts School, founded in 1867 at the Austrian Museum of Art and Industry. Gustav”s school teacher noticed the boy”s pronounced artistic talent and recommended to his parents that he continue his education in this field. He passed the entrance exam in drawing with honors. In contrast to the conservative Academy of Fine Arts, the school followed the modern pedagogical principle of putting the perception of art and practical training in crafts for new industrial forms of production at the forefront. The school”s graduates, who received an equally combined artistic and aesthetic and handicraft-technical education, were to become a new generation of universal applied art specialists capable of creating aesthetically valuable industrial products in the spirit of a comprehensive work of art. This approach began to take hold with the arrival of Felizian von Mirbach at the school and bore fruit under the Secessionists. Klimt completed the obligatory two-year preparatory course, where his teachers of ornamental art and graphics were Karl Grahovina, Ludwig Minnigerode and Michael Rieser. Soon his brother Ernst and later Georg also enrolled at the same school. Klimt took a special course under Ferdinand Laufberger and Julius Victor Berger. Gustav Klimt studied there until 1883 and specialized in architectural painting.

Gustav Klimt is considered the only graduate of the Vienna School of Arts and Crafts who achieved significant success in his artistic career before the turn of the twentieth century. In their third year of study, the Klimt brothers and their painter friend from student days, Franz Mach, received a scholarship of 20 guilders per month from the college for further study in painting and decorative arts. In 1879 they established an art association, opened their own workshop in Vienna in 1883 and successfully worked together until 1894 on decorating commissions in the crown lands of the Habsburg Monarchy, and from 1897 in the capital city. The partnership enjoyed the support of its teachers and the director of the school, Rudolf von Eitelberger. Rieser secured small commissions for his students while they were still studying, for example to prepare copies of sketches for one of the stained glass windows of the Votiveirche. Laufberger put them in contact with Fellner & Helmer, a company that specialized in furnishing theatrical buildings and secured their first major commissions: for ceiling paintings and curtains for the city theaters in Reichenberg and Karlsbad as well as mural works for the city theaters in Fiume, Brunnen and Bucharest. All three members of the art partnership had a very similar style of writing. From the autobiographical notes of Macha, we know that for each commission entrusted to the partnership, the three artists prepared three separate sets of sketches, so that the customer had a choice. It was decided by lot who would work on the chosen sketch, and it so happened that Franz Mach worked on a sketch by Gustav Klimt or vice versa. Younger Ernst at first more often entrusted to work on the background or framing. Hans Makart, “a prince among artists” in Vienna at the time, the head of a special school of historical painting at the Academy of Fine Arts, was the unquestioned authority among artists who were engaged in the decoration of Ringstrasse. All the commissions for which Klimt and Much applied went to Makart. Career opportunities in the capital opened up to other artists only after Makart”s untimely death in 1884. The first commission of the art partnership, inherited from Makart through J.W. Berger, was the pictorial decoration of Empress Elisabeth”s bedroom in Villa Hermes with scenes from Shakespeare”s A Midsummer Night”s Dream. The customers were so pleased that they immediately commissioned three artists to also decorate the villa”s salon with frescoes.

Thanks to the organizational talent of Mach, who carefully assembled a network of contacts and skillfully conducted advertising, the business of the partnership quickly took off. Under Eitelberger”s patronage from 1886 to 1888, the artistic trio worked on the mural decorations of the Burgtheater”s two grand staircases on themes from Antiquity to the 18th century, clearly established by theater director Adolf von Wilbrandt. Klimt executed several frescoes for the Burgtheater: The Chariot of Thespis, The Globe Theatre in London, The Altar of Dionysus, The Theatre in Taormina and The Altar of Venus. Although Klimt claimed not to paint self-portraits, he can be seen in the right side of the Globe Theater fresco in a starched raffia next to his brother Ernst in a red camisole and behind Macha in a brimless hat. In 1888 the Vienna city council commissioned Klimt and Mach to paint the interiors of the old Burgtheater on Michaelerplatz, which was to be demolished, in two paintings. In the process, they attended performances almost daily for free season tickets to the stalls. Klimt”s painting The Auditorium at the Old Burgtheater almost photographically accurately depicted two hundred members of Viennese society at the time, but more than five hundred people wished to be depicted in it. With great difficulty Klimt and Machu managed to select the portraits of those who were to be portrayed, including first of all the regular visitors to the Burgtheater, but also artists, financiers, scientists, famous aristocrats and officers, the imperial court and the Viennese beauties. Klimt copied paintings for many important people, thereby gaining recognition in the highest circles of Vienna and establishing himself as a “ladies” man”. For his work at the Burgtheater Klimt was awarded the Small Gold Medal in 1893 and the partnership received the Golden Cross with the crown from Emperor Franz Joseph.

After the Burgtheater, the partnership of the artists Klimt and Macha continued to decorate the giant staircase and inter-column spaces in the Museum of Art History with a cycle of allegorical paintings inscribed in the arcades at a height of more than 12 m in the foyer of the museum. Among the works made by Klimt for the Museum of Art History, which he received by lot, is “Ancient Greece” (“The Girl from Tanagra”), in which it is already noticeable that Klimt in his creative development is trying to move away from the ideals of his teachers and approaching Art Nouveau. The young woman is dressed in the spirit of the English Pre-Raphaelites and Symbolists, between two columns against a background of grapevine ornament, amphora and ancient Greek sculpture from the museum collections. She is dressed in a modern fashion and has a modern hairdo and posture that does not conform to the canons of academic historicism. The portraits of the composer Josef Pembaur and the actor Josef Lewinsky as Carlos from “Clavigo”, as well as “Love” for the multi-volume publication “Allegories and Emblems”, in which Klimt said goodbye to salon painting of the Gründerland era, are also evidence of the artist”s departure from historicism to symbolism. After the successful completion of the Museum of Art History in 1891, all three, barely thirty years old, were accepted into the association of Viennese artists. As their financial situation improved thanks to their sons, the Klimt family moved in 1890 to a new location at 36 Westbahnstraße, where Gustav would live until his death. In 1892, the successful trio of artists moved into a new studio in the quiet and idyllic garden pavilion at 21 Josefstädter Strasse. But Gustav Klimt”s year 1892 was overshadowed by difficult losses: His father died in July and his brother Ernst in December. Little is known about Gustav Klimt”s relationship with his father, but the death of his brother, who was a close friend and colleague, plunged him into a spiritual and creative crisis for five years.

“Faculty Paintings.”

Without Ernst Klimt, the relationship between the two members of the partnership fell apart. Franz Mach unsuccessfully tried to get an independent commission for the decoration of the assembly hall of the University of Vienna with his own sketches, but failed and was forced to engage Gustav Klimt, who got three of the five paintings: Philosophy, Medicine and Jurisprudence. Much worked on Theology and Triumph of Light over Darkness. For Klimt, the scandalous affair with the “Faculty Paintings,” which drove a wedge into his relations with the Austrian state, marked a turning point in his life and work. At first, the artists disagreed about the style of the work to be done, and Klimt increasingly worked alone in the studio. In the disintegration after Ernst”s death, Gustav no longer saw the need to limit his creativity for the sake of the common good. Both Klimt and Mach simultaneously applied for professorships at the Vienna Academy of Arts, but Klimt was rejected, and the conflict between the once comrades exacerbated for a long time: even years later, Klimt refused to invite Mach to the Vienna Secession. Then the sketches of paintings submitted by Klimt to the Commission of the Ministry of Education and Enlightenment, several times sent for revision. Just for “philosophy” Klimt, from the very beginning, tossed between freedom of creativity and commitment to the customer, prepared 26 compositional sketches. The rejection of the state customer caused, on the one hand, the formal departure of Klimt from historicism to symbolism, which was perceived too modernist, and on the other hand, Klimt”s approach to knowledge, which he has not just a rational ability, but also providence, intuition. For Klimt and his associates, allegory, as a pure embodiment of a concept, is a set of arbitrary conventions and traditions that have expressed political values for centuries, so it contradicts the free expression of the artist”s ideas. In the “Faculty Paintings,” Klimt for the first time consistently rejects allegory as a symbol of an idea and seeks to transfer the idea onto the canvas directly as a metaphysical essence.

“Philosophy was first shown to the public in 1900 at the 7th Vienna Secession exhibition, where it took center stage opposite the entrance to the great hall and provoked a protest not only from visitors to the exhibition, but also from university professors, who officially opposed the placement of Philosophy within the university walls. The scandal, which Vienna had not seen until then, provided the exhibition with a record 35,000 visitors and revived the interest of Viennese society in Gustav Klimt that it could foresee and expect. The newspapers erupted with ignorant and scathing articles, in which Klimt was pestered for all of modern art in general. A professor of natural history at the University of Vienna wrote: “I am not familiar with Klimt and I am not familiar with his painting. But I feel such hatred for modern art that I oppose it wherever I can. Three weeks after the opening of the exhibition, which lasted three months, the painting “Philosophy” went to the World Exhibition in Paris, where it won the gold medal.

The scandal with the “faculty paintings” continued at the 10th exhibition of the Secession, where “Medicine” was presented with a depiction of the goddess Hygieia, whose arm is wrapped around the serpent Asclepius over the bowl of life against the background of a rising powerful stream of realistically depicted human bodies, symbolizing death, illness and pain. A feuilleton in the Neue Freie Presse accused Klimt of depicting “the triumph of death” instead of the great medical advances of recent years. Klimt”s universal scientific view developed in the “faculty paintings” involving astronomy and psychoanalysis, the idea of a spiritual language that develops in each person throughout life, and the physical and mental transformation of man during life went unnoticed by either professors or critics. Klimt”s new pictorial language crossed the boundaries of scientific disciplines and made conservatives worry about their positions. The persecution of Klimt was called “the fight against ugly art,” he was accused of insanity and “outrageous immorality,” and Klimt”s critics competed in the venom of their articles. Klimt expressed his irritation at the scandalous rejection of the “faculty paintings” in an interview with Wiener Morgenzeitung, saying that he had no time to quarrel with stubborn people. “If my painting is ready, I don”t want to spend months more justifying myself in front of a bunch of people. What matters to me is not how many people like it, but who likes it,” he clarified his position. Klimt chose the role of rebel.

The third and final “faculty painting”, “Jurisprudence,” failed to please the state committee with confusing images of Truth, Justice, and Law. The allegory of Law holds a book inscribed Lex, Justice holds a sword instead of the traditional scales and has raised her hand to swear, and Truth is depicted as “naked truth”. According to art critic Ludwig Hevesy, what angered the ministerial commission most was that instead of depicting the triumph of law as an instance, Klimt showed what law can turn a man into – a hunched over sinner in the arms of a polyp of unclean conscience, being judged by the forces of fate who pass arbitrary sentences on him. Klimt wrote the final version of Jurisprudence in 1907, when the initial disagreement had already developed into a bitter and irreconcilable war between the university and the artist, and in it he may have interpreted his own situation.

After much controversy, the state commission refused to accept Klimt”s three “faculty paintings. Bertha Zuckerkandl, a staunch defender of Klimt and the Secession, published an interview and letter from Klimt to the Minister of Education in which the artist stated that he would return the advance payment of 60,000 crowns on the same day and refused to work with the Austrian state, which did not believe in his work and vilified the artist, and would keep the paintings, without changing a single stroke in them. The reply from the ministry came the next day and included a refusal to accept the refunded advance payment and a demand to immediately release the three paintings ordered, which were already in the possession of the state, under threat of physical force. The stirring story, which the whole of Vienna followed through the newspapers, ended the next day with a victory for Klimt, who did not open the door of his studio to the movers who arrived. Eventually, the “faculty paintings” were purchased by the patron of the arts, August Lederer. In the 1930s, the Nazi authorities nationalized Lederer”s collection of Klimt”s works. “Faculty paintings” were destroyed by fire on May 8, 1945 in the castle Immendorf, where they were stored during World War II along with other works of art, including another 13 paintings by Klimt. The palace was set on fire by Wehrmacht soldiers during the retreat. Only three black-and-white photographs and one color phototype of the figure of Hygiea from “Medicine” have survived from the “Faculty Paintings”. Her glittering gold and red colors give an idea of how powerful these lost works of art looked.

First Chairman of the Vienna Secession

The Vienna Secession, which revolutionized Viennese art, is unthinkable without Gustav Klimt, who became its leader, and his participation in the Secession had an enormous influence on the artist”s work. According to Hans Tietze, Klimt”s first biographer, by the time the Secession was created Klimt already seemed to be an established creative personality, but the new movement that emerged knocked him out of his paved rut, destroyed and awakened his innermost essence and created the man and artist Klimt that we know: in his struggle with Vienna, tearing down the best personal flowers of its art, Gustav Klimt, following the primordial law of genius, becomes the blob of Vienna art.

The Vienna Secession emerged in 1897 as an association of 50 founders, including the architect Josef Hoffmann, the decorator Koloman Moser and the entrepreneur Fritz Werndorfer, who in 1903 established the Vienna Workshops, the architect Josef Maria Olbrich, who designed the Secession House, and the great educator Otto Wagner, who created an architectural style and urban planning that placed human needs above architectural references. The founding members of the Vienna Secession were Karl Moll, Josef Engelhart, Ernst Stöhr, Wilhelm Liszt and Max Kurzweil. The artists of the Secession were united not by a single style, but by a desire to find suitable exhibition opportunities. Exhibitions organized by the Vienna Artists” House were criticized for their haphazardness, which made it difficult for the public to understand the works on view, and their “marketability,” which emphasized sales rather than didactic goals. The Vienna Secession aimed to provide a forum for the Austrian avant-garde through focused exhibitions and at the same time to attract foreign modern art to Vienna in order to inspire itself and enthuse the public with it. The election of Gustav Klimt as the first chairman of the Vienna Secession had several reasons. Firstly, Klimt was patronized by a senior comrade, the influential, successful and popular Karl Moll, a tireless advocate of Art Nouveau with extensive connections in Viennese society and a pronounced organizational talent. It was in the salon of Karl and Anna Moll that Klimt met members of Viennese society and began to paint their portraits. Among them were Serena Lederer, Maria Henneberg, Rosa von Roesthorn-Friedman and Theresa Bloch-Bauer, sister of the famous Golden Adelie. Secondly, Klimt”s personality played a role: he was just the kind of leader that artists needed – eccentric, not wordy, but always serious. He managed to succeed without the help of the state and the Academy, he was seen as stalwart and authentic.

Klimt”s development as an artist is unthinkable without the Vienna Secession: here he was introduced to many breakthrough works of foreign art, and here resonant presentations of his own new works took place. For Klimt, the Secession was not only a refuge where he found like-minded people, but also an arena where he challenged the public. The polemical attitude of the founders of the Secession can be seen in several of Gustav Klimt”s works of the time. In Athena Pallada (1898), the goddess chosen as the patroness of the new art association and featured on the poster of its first exhibition, she is deliberately distorted, in the words of Ludwig Hevesi, the “demoness of the Secession,” who mesmerizes the viewer with her icy gaze. She is fighting against outdated traditions for the sake of a new art – a nude figure of the victor in her right hand. “Athena Pallada” was first shown at the first exhibition at the new House of Secession in the fall of 1898 and caused a great stir. The new, unusual interpretation of the ancient subject, proposed by the artist, left the adherents of the classical tradition dissatisfied because of its brutality. Klimt”s first truly modernist work alerted the public to the appearance on the Viennese art scene of a contradictory personality who was to set it in motion.

For the XIVth Exhibition of the Vienna Secession in 1902, dedicated to the genius of Ludwig van Beethoven, Gustav Klimt prepared the Beethoven Frieze, which was originally conceived as a temporary decoration for three walls of the left side hall of the Beethoven Exhibition. In the Beethoven Frieze the artist drew on Richard Wagner, who in his essay “Opera and Drama” referred to Beethoven”s Ninth Symphony as a work of synthetic art, which was fully in line with the ideals of the Secessionists. By creatively reworking Wagner”s thoughts and Schiller”s Ode to Joy, Klimt gave the structure of the frieze a musicality in recurring motifs with soaring female characters personifying the pursuit of happiness. On the theoretical basis of Wagner”s text, from left to right, Klimt describes his impressions of listening to the symphony in combination with Schiller”s ode to humanity”s struggle for happiness. “The Beethoven Exhibition” was a huge success. The art journal German Art and Decorativity praised Klimt in this regard: “Klimt is an individuality that does not wish to be measured by one measure, he is susceptible to the most subtle impressions His essence, however strange it may seem, is entirely Viennese. Klimt”s art, exotic, outlandish, highly delicate as it is, is rooted in this very genus. Deprived of all crude sensual forms, it appears as a refined ”venality,” as a spiritual substrate in which nothing remains of the material essence of things except a whiff of charm, a light earthy fragrance, an enveloping sensual atmosphere.” But there were also critical speeches: the indignant music critic Robert Hirschfeld believed that the obscenities in the central frieze surpassed all previous examples of obscenity in art, and the Wiener Sonn- und Montagszeitung saw the Beethoven frieze as an insult to sacred feelings and called it painting pornography, worthy of basement pagan orgies rather than halls where respectable ladies and young ladies come to enjoy art. Very few contemporaries could appreciate Klimt”s ability to abstract women”s bodies and turn them into symbols of something else.

A split in the Vienna Secession occurred in 1905 on both ideological and material grounds. On the ideological level, the Secessionists diverged on questions of style: Klimt and his supporters, the so-called “stylists”, advocated the penetration of art in all its forms into all areas of life and attached great importance to decorative and applied art in this direction. This approach did not suit the “naturalists”, who held to a clear definition of art. According to Ludwig Hevesy, disagreements within the Vienna Secession had been brewing ever since the preparations for the St. Louis World”s Fair in 1904. Austria initially refused to participate in this World”s Fair, but after learning that there were only two countries that refused – Austria and Turkey – it changed its decision. The Ministry of Education entrusted the preparation of the Austrian exposition to the Secessionists, who, instead of the usual selection of the best works, planned to design the Hoffmann Hall in accordance with the ideals of the Gesamtkunstwerk with the works of only three Secessionists: Faculty paintings by Klimt, sculptures by Franz Metzner and polychrome sculptures by Franz Andry. Such a decision could not but displease most Secessionists. In 1903, the Secession held its first solo exhibition, and it was devoted to the work of Gustav Klimt. It was extremely successful, and the artist made 36,000 crowns. In the same year, Hoffmann and Moser opened the Vienna workshops, which turned out highly artistic consumer items ranging from wallpaper, furniture, crockery and cutlery in interior design to ladies” accessories and personalized postcards. In 1904 the jeweler Paul Bacher purchased the Mitke Gallery as the store of the Vienna Secession. The so-called “group of artists” led by Engelhart, contrary to the realities of life and the need to earn a living, protested against the treacherous mixing of the practice of crafts and art, against the “commercialization” of the association and the holding of “competitive exhibitions” where a price tag was announced for each work of art. By 1905, Engelhart”s associates were in conflict with the so-called “Klimt group,” believing that they were undeservedly sidelined by such successful artists as Klimt, Moser or Moll, and accusing their opponents of discrimination at exhibitions. Such accusations were not entirely justified, since the Engelhart group in these seven years of the Secession”s existence predominantly concentrated on leadership and organizational tasks in the preparation of exhibitions to the detriment of creative development, and Engelhart was twice elected chairman of the Secession in 1899 and 1910. It was decided against the Klimt group by a margin of only one vote.

Vienna Art Exhibitions of 1908 and 1909

After leaving the Secession in 1905, the Klimt group had no joint exhibitions for three years, which had always been a significant source of income for the artists. Klimt”s works, beginning with the “faculty paintings” in 1907, were shown from time to time in the Mitke Gallery in Vienna and abroad, but no exhibition space could be found in Vienna for the entire group of artists. In 1908 and 1909, on the site allocated for the construction of a new concert hall, but temporarily provided by the Ministry of the Interior for the exhibition, Klimt”s group with the financial support of the Ministry of Education was able to organize two large-scale exhibitions, which Vienna had not yet seen. J. Hoffman constructed lightweight structures to accommodate 54 halls, an open-air cafe and theater, with walkways, terraces and gardens in between. The first Vienna Art Exhibition was held from June 1 to November 16, 1908, on the occasion of the 60th anniversary of the reign of Emperor Franz Joseph I. It was dedicated to the art of the Habsburg Monarchy in all its diversity: Church art, craftsmanship, poster art, architecture, sculpture and painting. The exhibition included over 900 works of art. In his famous opening speech, Gustav Klimt said that there is no area of human life, no small or insignificant detail, that is too small for artistic endeavor, that even the most insignificant thing done to perfection multiplies the beauty of the earth and that cultural progress can only be achieved by gradually and continuously pursuing artistic goals. Room 22, elegantly decorated by Colo Moser and designated by Peter Altenberg as the “Gustav Klimt Contemporary Art Church,” displayed the artist”s works from the past five years: The Kiss, Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I, Danaë, Three Ages of Woman, Girlfriends II, several portraits and landscapes of women. In the works of the “golden period,” presented at the exhibition, the artist has already parted with the former spirit of struggle, he was carried away by the idea of the artist”s departure into the world of beauty, most fully embodied in the “Kiss”. The satirical magazine Die Muskete ran a series of eight cartoons on the paintings shown at the Vienna Art Exhibition, including Klimt”s The Three Ages of Woman, Danaë and Golden Adele.

Contrary to the optimism of its organizers, the art exhibition in the extremely hot Viennese summer of 1908 did not justify itself from a financial point of view. In addition, the harsh and unexpected criticism of the work of the young Oskar Kokoschka overshadowed all the positive reviews. The public and critics jumped on the debutant of the exhibition so much that the old scandal around Klimt”s “faculty paintings” came to mind. Even the progressive Hevesy, though he acknowledged Kokoschka”s talent, denied him any taste “even for a kreutzer”, to which Klimt replied: “But he has talent for a guilder! Taste is important to the connoisseur of wines, the cook. Art has nothing to do with taste. Doubts about the correctness of the decision to participate in the exhibition and Kokoschka expressed in the group itself Klimt, because the scandal because of such “savagery” threatened the success of the exhibition as a whole, but Klimt did not turn away from his student and defended his participation in the exhibition, even if it was going to close. Despite the financial failure of the first exhibition, the second exhibition in 1909, the second generation of modernists were not only Oskar Kokoschka, but also Egon Schiele. Klimt presented Judith II, Hope II, landscapes and drawings in the same hall 22 that year. The works of Van Gogh, Munch, Gauguin, Valloton, Bonnard and Matisse presented at the 1909 exhibition gave Klimt the impetus for a new phase in his art. After this high-profile event in the artistic life of Vienna with wide international participation, Klimt never again organized art exhibitions.

Recent years

Gustav Klimt spent the last years of his life in even greater seclusion. In 1911, he moved his studio closer to nature, to Hitzing, to a one-story house with a garden and flower beds at 11 Feldmüllgasse near Schönbrunn Park. In this studio with its large windows, surrounded by woodcuts, sculptures, Japanese costumes, samurai armor and furniture designed by Josef Hoffmann, Klimt began a new creative period and spent the last six years of his life at work. Here he painted the vivid and colorful “Lady with a Fan”, “Bride” and two “Dancers”, as if he tried to force the war out of his world and created only one illuminating painting, “Death and Life”. According to surviving notes in Klimt”s notebook, he also made good money during the war years. In 1915, Gustav Klimt”s mother died and he was left to live with his two unmarried sisters in an apartment in Westbahn Strasse.

In 1912 Gustav Klimt was elected president of the Austrian Artists” Union and in that capacity attended a general art exhibition in Budapest in the spring of 1913, where ten of his works were shown. In the same year his paintings “The Maiden” and “Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer II” participated in the XI International Art Exhibition in Munich, and later he was invited by Karl Reininghaus to sit on the jury of the art prize he established. In May 1914, Klimt went to Brussels to see for the first time the finished frieze in the dining room of the Stoclet Palace. He liked the beautiful palace, the frieze itself, as he wrote to Emilia Fleughe, reminded him of the summer months of intensive work on the frieze in Kammer on the Atterse in 1908 and 1909, but he was not completely satisfied with his work. The Stoclet couple had prepared an extensive cultural program for the Austrian guest and toured half of Belgium with him, but apart from the African sculptures in the Congo Museum, the artist did not enjoy anything in Belgium: he spoke poor French, suffered from nostalgia, a runny nose and digestive problems.

In 1917 Gustav Klimt was elected an honorary member of the Vienna and Munich Academy of Arts.

On January 11, 1918, Gustav Klimt had a stroke that paralyzed the right side of his body. His state of health began to deteriorate rapidly. For the treatment of bedsores, he was placed in a water bed at the general hospital with Professor Gerhard Riehl, where he caught the flu and pneumonia. For three weeks press bulletins were published about the artist”s state of health, who supposedly had every hope of recovery. On his deathbed, a shaven and emaciated Klimt demanded that his sisters send for Emilie Flöge. Gustav Klimt died at six o”clock in the morning of February 6, 1918, the first in a series of deaths of colleagues: Otto Wagner, Koloman Moser, Egon Schiele and Ferdinand Hodler all died in the same year. On February 7, Egon Schiele went down to visit his friend in the hospital sick room: Klimt looked gaunt and rejuvenated, and the drawings Schiele made of the dead Klimt was completely unrecognizable. Gustav Klimt was buried at Hitzing Cemetery. The farewell speeches at Gustav Klimt”s funeral lamented how little Vienna valued the artist. His legacy of stacks of drawings and unfinished paintings was shared by his sisters, his brother and Emilia Flöge.

Ladies” Portraitist

Much of the success of Gustav Klimt”s career as an artist came from his ceremonial portraits. Many of the women whose portraits Klimt painted were introduced to him by Karl Moll, who also brought him into the social circle of the intellectual grand bourgeoisie. With some women Klimt became friends, with others he had affairs, in any case, as an artist, he was supposed to be interested in the portrayed. Women”s portraits are more than an important block in his oeuvre, revealing his artistic independence and stylistic radicalism and, in addition, securing his financial independence. Most of the women portrayed by Klimt were from the Jewish upper classes: in 1849 changes in the Austrian constitution were initiated to enable Jews to own real estate, and wealthy Jewish families began to acquire magnificent palaces, which had to be decorated accordingly, and a portrait of the mistress of the palace in the salon was obligatory. The problem was that only a few venerable Viennese artists were liberal in what was still a generally anti-Semitic Austria. Klimt was able to place himself above feudal social hierarchies and anti-Semitic hostility, knowing that he would meet with the rejection of the nobility. Between 1897 and 1917, Gustav Klimt painted nearly two dozen ladies” ceremonial portraits, and there could have been many more had the world war not begun, leading to social upheaval. From the time of the “faculty paintings” Klimt was known as “the most erotic artist,” but in the official women”s portraits he depicted mostly ladies in opulent robes that concealed the contours of the bodies of the portrayed. Obviously, from an artistic point of view, he considered it necessary to deprive ceremonial portraits of any hint of eroticism. In Klimt”s formal portraits there is no languor or impulse. Klimt even disregarded the portraitist”s primary task of reflecting the personality of the portrayed person and consistently deprived the ladies in his portraits not only of the body, but also of personality. The background of the painting and the body of the portrayed pass into each other: not a woman is placed in the space of the painting, and in the staged space in isolation from reality floats her individual head and hands. The woman was thus transformed into an ornament, which at the will of the customer should decorate his home.

The portrait of Sonja Knips, created in 1897-1898, marked Klimt”s breakthrough in a style that originally fused Belgian symbolism and Victorian painting and was later influenced by Impressionism, mosaic arts and crafts techniques, and Asian influences in the freest combinations. This portrait, measuring 145 × 145 cm, marked the beginning of a series of large-format portraits in sumptuous frames in keeping with the tastes of Klimt”s clientele. Klimt divided the area of the painting into two almost equal parts: Sonja Knips sits in an armchair in the light foreground on the right. She is wearing a masterfully rendered dress of pink tulle; the dark background, decorated with flowers, is reminiscent of a terrace. In Sonia”s pose, representativeness and evanescence collide: the position of her left hand on the armrest of her chair and the blurring of her right hand with the red album create the impression as if she had been distracted from her reading and was about to rise. The square shape of the portrait gives a balanced and serene composition that is disturbed by the portrait of the subject who is leaning forward with her upper body slightly, sitting on the edge of a deep armchair. For the portrait of Sonia Knips Klimt wrote more than half a dozen sketches, and he worked out its composition along with the sketches in the very red album that is depicted in Sonia”s hand. The portrait was shown at the Second Exhibition of the Secession in November 1898 and was a turning point in the artistic career of Gustav Klimt. In 1898-1899, influenced by Fernand Knopf, James Whistler, and Claude Monet, Klimt painted close to monochrome portraits of Gertrude Steiner and Serena Lederer, but was probably dissatisfied with the results because he subsequently returned to brighter colors and a more careful treatment of background composition.

The next stage in the development of Klimt”s portrait style was the post-Impressionist portrait of Maria Henneberg, wife of the photographer Hugo Henneberg. In the portrait with blurred outlines and smooth transitions, which looks like a pictorial mosaic, only the face and the lace flounces of the dress have concrete subjectivity. Klimt focused exclusively on the face, hands and dress, and only sharpened them further. In his portrait of 19-year-old Gertrude Klimt presented a strong and unified image of the girl against an almost white monochrome background, drawing all attention to her face without distracting from the background. The entire concept of Klimt”s portraits is already formally established in this work: the emphasis on the face and hands, the pale complexion, ruddy cheeks, flat breasts and, until 1912, invisible legs. Peter Altenberg spoke enthusiastically of Klimt”s women”s portraits: “These women”s portraits are like the crowning work of nature”s subtlest romance. Tender, nobly built, fragile creatures, which poets are carried away in heartfelt reveries, never cease and never quenched. The hands are a reflection of a lovely soul, a little childlike, high-minded and virtuous at the same time! They are all beyond earthly gravity. They are all princesses from the best, gentlest of worlds.

The most famous ladies” portrait by Gustav Klimt is the Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I, the only one painted in a truly “golden style. What the artist achieved in the other portraits with selected colors – white, as in the portraits of Serena Lederer, Gertrude Löw or Margaret Stonborough-Wittgenstein, or blue, as in the portrait of Emilia Flöge, in “Golden Adele” he further enhanced with gold and the reduction of the female body to ornamentation. The individual elements of the portrait can only be discerned through ornaments in the form of spirals, squares and circles made in different colors, mostly silver and black, but also yellow, orange, blue, gray and brown. Adelie”s narrow dress is adorned with an ornament of triangles reminiscent of the Egyptian eye of Horus or the Christian eye of God. The rejection of perspective and ornamentation is Gustav Klimt”s own way into the hovering abstractionism.

“Golden Period.”

The “golden period” is the most famous in the work of Gustav Klimt. He turned to the decorative possibilities of gold while still in the workshop of his jeweler father, experimented with it at the art and crafts school and later, working for Makart, who considered the gold background neutral but majestic to emphasize the iconographic significance of the images. On trips to Italy in 1899 and 1903, Klimt was stunned by the gold mosaics in St. Mark”s Cathedral in Venice and the early Christian church of San Vitale in Ravenna. In the first half of the nineteenth century, gold backgrounds and gold mosaics marked a return of interest in the Middle Ages. Klimt appreciated the decorative power of gold and used it not only as a background, but also for clothing, hair and ornaments. The extent to which the artist intensively explored the possibilities of this material is evidenced by Klimt”s refinement of the technique of working with gold and its gradual extension to the work as a whole. In his early work, Athena Pallada (1898), the helmet, armor and staff are painted in gold oil paint in a frame of potash. In “Judith” (1901) gold background is already used and for the first time in gold leaf. From the recollections of Hevesy it appears that the Faculty”s Philosophy was decorated in gold, and the only color phototype of the Medicine has a snake, jewelry and vestments of Hygiea decorated in gold. In “Hope II” (1907-1908) Klimt worked with gold and silver foil, and in “The Kiss” (1908-1909) the background is made of copper gauze, and in luxurious relief ornamental vestments of lovers in addition to gold foil were used silver and platinum. In the Beethoven Frieze Klimt used semi-precious stones and mother-of-pearl. To work on the Stoclet frieze in the dining room of the palace of the Belgian industrialist Adolphe Stoclet, the client gave Klimt carte blanche both artistically and financially, and the artist worked with expensive marble, enamel, silver, gold, crystal, nacre, ceramics and precious stones. Klimt”s further consistent development of this trend would have led to an economically impossible work solely with expensive materials. The Stoclet frieze, which ultimately turned out to be a failure for the Vienna workshops that decorated the interiors of the Stoclet Palace, also completed the “golden period” in Klimt”s art: the paintings were completely lost against the background of the possibilities of working with mosaic materials in unprofitable arts and crafts. In just two years – from “The Kiss” to “Judith II” – Klimt completely abandoned both gold and geometric ornamentation in his work. French colleagues Henri Matisse, Paul Gauguin and Vincent van Gogh, who participated in the 1909 Vienna Art Exhibition, encouraged Klimt to almost unrestrained color experimentation and even a single trip to Paris. Nevertheless, gold in the Austrian art school marked the beginning of a new path – the interaction of the three types of plastic arts: monumental, easel and decorative, and became the instrument of Art Nouveau.


At present about four thousand of Klimt”s works on paper are known, in fact there were many more, and new Klimt drawings continue to appear on the market. The central place in the subject matter of Gustav Klimt”s graphics is occupied by the human, primarily female solitary figure, sketches of landscapes, genre, animalistic or natural subjects are much less common. Klimt usually drew with black chalk, then a simple pencil, sometimes with colored pencils. He rarely used a pen, watercolor, gold and silver paint were used by him in the initial stage of creativity and up to and including the “golden period”. For his drawings Klimt always used the same format of stapled notebook packing paper, and only in 1904 did he switch to a larger-format, lighter and more durable type of paper, which he ordered through the Vienna Tea Company in Japan. Gustav Klimt painted obsessively and with discipline. He worked predominantly with living models, their poses and gestures he carefully sequenced: a graduate of an art and crafts school, brought up in the tradition of historicism, Klimt was well aware of the service role of drawing. Many of Klimt”s drawings are related to his painting work in the broadest sense. Sometimes the themes of the paintings were set by earlier drawings, often Klimt returns to the theme of the painting to develop new ideas. Klimt has many stand-alone drawings, for a number of paintings there are no sketches at all. .

Gustav Klimt is said to have earned his fame as a “ladies” painter” with his portraits of ladies of Viennese society, but in reality his nude studies, to which he turned after completing his “golden period” and becoming interested in Japanese art, laid the foundation. In Klimt”s nude drawings it is obvious that he favors female models. The artist”s fascinated view of the female gender on his models is overtly voyeuristic: during long, sexually charged sessions, Klimt watched the girls surrender to an erotic mood. Contrary to the patriarchal society of the time, which deplored attention to a woman”s intimate life, the artist was most interested in the pleasure that women derived from their own bodies. If he liked a girl, he could capture moments of her relaxation and self-satisfaction to the point of exhaustion in half a dozen sketches. Klimt”s series of drawings should be seen precisely as a time-recorded process of sexual satisfaction in its various stages. Gustav Klimt was not the first artist to depict a masturbating woman, but he was the first to elevate female masturbation to a separate artistic genre. Klimt”s nude models are free from fear and shame and full of passion, and Klimt”s erotic drawings are a monument to female sexuality. There is no machismo, no vulgarity, no aggressiveness, no cynicism in them as in other artists contemporary to him. On the contrary, it seems that Klimt flirts with his models, enjoys their ease and captures it in every detail, and every line in the drawing of a nude female nature Klimt carried out with respect for the female species. The revolutionary nature of Gustav Klimt”s erotic graphics is that they confront the prevailing view: the woman ceases to be a beautiful projection surface or a submissive representational object. Gustav Klimt”s erotic graphics were influenced by Japanese art, which he studied intensively during his crisis years of 1909-1910. The Japanese “spring pictures” of Shunga demonstrated a very different approach to nudity, sexuality and prostitutes than he had in Vienna. In 1905, Gustav Klimt provided 15 previously painted nude sketches to illustrate an edition of Lucian”s Dialogues of Heteres, translated by Franz Blei, prepared by the Vienna workshops; Klimt”s other works in this genre were not exhibited during his lifetime.

Asian motifs

Gustav Klimt paid close attention to Japanese art during the Sixth Exhibition of the Secession, where a collection of Japanese applied art by Adolf Fischer was displayed. It is known that Klimt assembled an extensive collection of Japanese and Chinese silk clothes, which he kept together with the red and black armor of the samurai in his workshop. This collection was destroyed in a fire in Emilia Flöge”s apartment in 1945. Klimt used the Japanese drawings from his collection as the background for a number of his later paintings, including the portraits of Elisabeth Lederer, Paula Zuckerkandl, and Friederike Maria Beer.


Landscapes constitute a significant part of the creative heritage of Gustav Klimt. Almost a quarter of his paintings are in this genre. Klimt turned to this genre mainly in the summer of 1898-1916 in the Salzkammergut, where the resort area offered an inexhaustible wealth of motifs. Klimt painted landscapes on holiday, for a change, not to order and not limiting himself in time. After the final break with the Ministry of Education landscapes became a small but reliable source of income for the artist. He painted more than fifty landscapes on the Attersee: the lake itself, the surrounding forests, peasant gardens, individual flowers and buildings. Johannes Dobay, a researcher of Klimt”s work, believes that at the turn of the century, with the formation of the Secession and problems with “faculty paintings,” landscapes performed a meditative function for the artist. Klimt”s first landscapes are considered to have been executed in 1898, “Twilight,” “After the Rain,” “Orchard” and “Orchard in the Evening,” as well as “A Peasant”s House with Roses.” Stylistically, this group of landscapes is close to “Lady by the Fireplace,” “Lady in Frontal View,” and “Portrait of Sonja Knips,” all painted at the same time. This period of Klimt”s painting is characterized above all by a paste technique of applying colors in combination with strongly rubbed paints, which do not allow for any linearity and blur the borders, as well as a foreground that is parallel to the surface of the painting and not limited in space. Beginning in 1900, landscapes already made up half of Klimt”s oeuvre, totaling about fifty.

All of Klimt”s landscapes are square and focused as a frame. The artist is not interested in panoramic or heroic Alpine landscapes, but in everyday and unassuming subjects typical of the so-called moody “private landscapes” of Austrian Impressionism: rural gardens, meadows, fruit trees and flowers. He painted peasant and country houses in addition to lush vegetation, ponds and marshes, lakes and trees. Later terrains and parks are added, but they are rather anonymous and unsuitable for veduta. Klimt did not paint the sky, clouds or stars; he raised the horizon line so high that everything below it occupied a large area and acted as a carrier of meanings, creating, in the words of art historian Gottfried Fliedl, “the artist”s own independent biological cosmos. Very rarely, for example, only in “Poplar II” (1902) Klimt turned to the weather phenomena, the beginning of a thunderstorm in this case, and lowered the horizon, giving the main role of the sky. Klimt”s landscapes almost never show people or animals, their presence is indicated solely by the cultivated terrain. On outings, Klimt took a square frame cut out of a cardboard cover, a lens from a spyglass or theatrical binoculars, resulting in still shots of cultivated landscapes near or far without time or geographical reference. Although all of the landscapes appeared in the vicinity of Atterse, they are so deeply stylized and subordinate in content to the mood that the terrain itself is irrelevant.

In turbulent times at the turn of the century, landscapes for Klimt symbolize a place of solitude-not only physical, but also mental. The desolate moodscapes are as neutral a motif as possible, with a long history in Austria. After the Impressionists had won back their place in the art salons, Klimt used their stylistic means without fear. Summer landscapes with lush vegetation under the bright sun in Litzlberg, performed by Klimt countless short cautious colored strokes under the influence of pointillism technique in 1904-1907: “Roses under Trees”, “Garden Landscape”, “Floral Field” and “Poppy Field” is particularly atmospheric. A peculiar point ornamentation of landscapes on closer examination is folded into paths divided by glades, tree crowns and individual flowers. The Orchard with Roses (1912), which, contrary to the laws of nature, simultaneously depicts roses, poppies in bloom and apple trees in fruit, demonstrates that Klimt did not reproduce but reconstructed nature in his paintings: a decorative, aesthetic perception that artistically dissects nature is estranged from actual nature. Klimt does not paint nature itself, he is inspired by it and reassembles it in the painting. Small islands of flowers, miniature garden landscapes appeared at this time and in some of the ladies” portraits. First, in Meda Primavesi”s portrait, the carpet on which the girl is standing gradually turns into a garden landscape. Eugenia Primavesi is dressed in the portrait in a dress that looks like a stylized dense floral rug, and in the portrait of Ria Munch III the background wallpaper consists of stylized flowers. But the artist never crossed the boundaries of genres: he never depicted his ladies in garden or nature portraits, and his landscapes do not show people.

In the landscape genre Klimt managed not only to retreat, but also to creatively unfold. He sought and found the lyrical in nature and approaches natural motifs as portraits. Hevesy enthusiastically described the “humanization” of the plant in Klimt”s Sunflower: “An ordinary sunflower, which Klimt planted in a floral mess, stands as a fairy in love, whose greenish-grayish clothes are falling in passionate awe. The face of the sunflower, so mysteriously dark in a wreath of light yellow-golden rays, it conceals something mystical to the artist, one might say, cosmic, as soon as Klimt appears.” Klimt was familiar with Van Gogh”s Sunflowers, which had participated in an Impressionist exhibition prepared by the Vienna Secession in 1903. But while Van Gogh was interested in the color changes of fading flowers, Klimt, at the height of the “golden period,” in the technique of pictorial mosaics, painted a majestic portrait of a proud plant on a golden background to match his ladies” portraits. At the 1908 Art Exhibition, the Sunflower was exhibited along with the unfinished Kiss and the Golden Adele.

From the experience of French artists, Klimt knew that the value of a landscape increases if, in addition to the authentic transfer of the state of nature, there is an artistic equivalent. For this he, like his idols, used auxiliary means, especially photography, which for technical reasons destroys the three-dimensional effect observed with the naked eye, so Klimt turned to optics in order to work at a greater distance. The flatness of the image, be it a photograph or a painting, was recognized as a quality to be exploited rather than overcome. Klimt”s brushwork and palette do not conceal a French influence, but his approach is different: he did not look for light drama in weather phenomena, but rather caught the natural peace in his paintings. His gaze is directed inward, toward the soul of nature, which forced him to look for shots in natural specimens that fit his compositional requirements. One of the last landscapes Klimt painted at Atterse was the already stripped of its former colors, “Apple Tree II,” 1916. The landscape photographs served as a frame of reference for his memory.


Soon after Gustav Klimt”s death, he was quickly forgotten. Most of his works were in private collections and were accessible only to a narrow elite circle of society. Twenty years later, from 1938, when the National Socialists began compiling property registers for Viennese Jews, Klimt”s works, which were not to the taste of the new government, were valued far below the Flemish masters, Renaissance art, Baroque, Romanticism and Viennese Biedermeier. Klimt was not considered degenerate art, but he was not valued either.

At the initiative of Gauleiter Baldur von Schirach, a retrospective exhibition of works by Gustav Klimt was held at the Vienna Secession House in 1943 to mark the 80th anniversary of the artist”s birth. The official authorities” interest in Klimt was explained by the fact that he was associated with the Viennese fin de siècle, Viennese art, and had a significant influence on its development. For career reasons, too, Schirach, at the head of the second city of the Reich, promoted Vienna as the “bastion of German art” and tried to put it on a par with Berlin in the field of culture and art. For the sake of this, Schirach was willing to turn a blind eye to the fact that Klimt had allegedly “violated the vital interests of the nation” and to cleanse the exhibit of any Jewish traces of customers, collectors or portrait subjects. The 1943 exhibition featured 66 paintings and 33 drawings by Gustav Klimt from the collections of the Belvedere, the Vienna City Museum and “private collections,” many of them with edited, streamlined titles: “A Girl at Full Height,” “A Lady at Full Height,” or “A Lady Portrait against a Background of Chinese Wallpaper.” The exhibition was a resounding success: at the height of World War II it was visited by 24,000 people in a single month from February 7 to March 7, 1943.

After the war, interest in the work of Gustav Klimt resurrected only in 1964-1965. Against the backdrop of the Austrian Art Nouveau cambée, Klimt”s 100th anniversary exhibitions were held at New York”s Guggenheim Museum, London”s Marlborough Gallery and Munich”s “Secession – European Art at the Turn of the Century”. Art critics Gustav Klimt no longer aroused as much passion as in his lifetime, in the 1960s they were restrained, without praise or blasphemy, trying to navigate how to classify the controversial Klimt within the art historical canon. On the one hand, the decadent art of Klimt, who died in 1918, was as outdated as the Danube Monarchy, which passed away in the same year. On the other hand, Klimt represented something more than short-lived Art Nouveau; from Klimt”s ornamental and two-dimensional space, with its complete rejection of perspective, to at least semi-abstract art was but one step away. Nevertheless, in the post-war years, when abstractionism was triumphant, finding Klimt”s proper place in art was still difficult. In the 1960s, research into the work of Gustav Klimt gained a new basis. In 1967, Fritz Novotny and Johannes Dobay published an inventory of Klimt”s works, and in 1969, a comprehensive documentary work by Christian M. Nebechai was published. Already in the 1980s, a four-volume catalog of Klimt drawings was published, the preparation of which took Alice Strobl a dozen years.

The general popularity came to Gustav Klimt two decades later. In 1985, the Vienna Secession House held a large-scale exhibition “Dream and Reality. Vienna in 1870-1930” was a large-scale exhibition on Viennese art from the triumph of the Makart in 1879 to the economic crisis of 1929. The 1902 Beethoven Exhibition included the first showing of the restored Beethoven Frieze. Although the exhibition was not dedicated to Klimt, his presence was felt in almost every exhibition hall. In the words of its organizer Hans Hollein, “the eroticism of Klimt and Schiele hangs heavily over the exhibition and penetrates its rooms and cracks. The Dream and Reality exhibition elevated Klimt to unprecedented heights in both art history and financial evaluation. Until the 1990s, disputes over ownership of works by Klimt did not reach the courts, but after the 1985 Vienna exhibition, descendants of Jewish collectors of Gustav Klimt realized that their lost property has increased in value and it made sense to engage in a long and costly legal battles for its restitution. The investigations in 1998 by Austrian journalist Hubertus Czernin into the condition of the provenance of works of art from Austrian state museums, which had belonged to Jewish families before 1938, also played a role. Perhaps the peak of the artist”s modern popularity came in 2006, when a feature film about him starring John Malkovich was released and a record $135 million was paid for one of his paintings.

In Russia, interest in the work of Gustav Klimt intensified only at the turn of the 20th and 21st centuries, when the first translations of works by foreign Klimt scholars appeared. The only monograph on Klimt”s work published in Russia is a book by I.E. Svetlov, Doctor of Art History.

Gustav Klimt became one of the most successful artists of his generation only thanks to the patronage of a few collectors. During Klimt”s lifetime, Austrian state museums were in no hurry to acquire his paintings. The first exhibition in memory of Gustav Klimt, held in 1928, showed 76 of his works, and only six of them were from the collections of Austrian museums. The stories of many of Klimt”s paintings are closely intertwined with the tragic fate of their models and owners after the Anschluss of Austria by Hitler”s Germany and ensure an inexhaustible public interest in the artist”s work.

Lederers, Steiners, and Munchies

The main collectors of Gustav Klimt”s work were the three Pulitzer sisters Serena (Sidonia) Lederer, Eugenia (Jenny) Steiner and Aranka Munch and their husbands. There were 28 of the artist”s famous paintings and drawings on the confiscated lists from the Lederer, Steiner and Munch families in 1938. Even before his famous 1899 portrait of Serena, Klimt in 1898 painted a posthumous portrait of Gertrude Steiner, daughter of Eugenia Steiner, as well as portraits of Serena”s daughter Elisabeth Lederer (1914), mother Charlotte Pulitzer (1915) and Ria Munch, daughter of Aranka, on her deathbed (1912).

Serena and August Lederer were the biggest patrons of Klimt, it was thanks to their financial help the artist was able to buy back from the state “faculty paintings” and thus put an end to the scandal associated with them. The Lederer collection until 1938, in addition to the portraits of the spouses, included compositional sketches for the “faculty paintings” “Jurisprudence” and “Philosophy”, the supraports “Music” and “Schubert at the Clavier”, “Beethoven Frieze,” “Procession of the Dead,” “Golden Apple Tree,” “Rural Garden with Crucifixion,” “Malcesine on Lake Garda,” “Apple Tree II,” “Gastein,” “Valle,” “Girlfriends,” “Leda” and “Lane in Garden with Chickens.” The entire Lederer collection, with the exception of the portraits, Beethoven Frieze and Apple Tree II, was destroyed by fire at Immendorf Castle on May 8, 1945. In 1944, the Belvedere Gallery purchased two “faculty paintings” from Elisabeth Wolfgang Bachofen von Echt, the former husband of the Lederers” daughter. Serena Lederer fought fearlessly but unsuccessfully for her Klimt collection until her death in 1943, trying to prove that as a Hungarian citizen she was not obliged to register her property, which was not subject to confiscation in Austria. At the end of the war, the portraits began to appear on the art markets.

Eugenia Steiner knew not only art but also commerce and was among the richest Viennese. After her husband Wilhelm Steiner died in 1922, Eugenia, mother of five children, continued her husband”s family business with her nephew. Steiner”s silk manufactory was close to Gustav Klimt”s workshop, Eugenia also collected Egon Schiele. In addition to a portrait of her daughter Gertrude, according to the registry, she owned “Water Snakes II”, “Foresters Cabin in Weissenbach”, as well as a portrait of Meda Primavesi and five drawings. In 1938, Eugenia”s nephew committed suicide and she was forcibly deprived of her share of the family business. Eugenia Steiner emigrated to the United States via Portugal and Brazil with the help of a relative, the son of Joseph Pulitzer, the influential publisher and founder of the Pulitzer Prize. She succeeded in obtaining the restitution of a portrait of Meda Primavesi, which her heirs donated to the New York Museum of Modern Art. In 2001, the Belvedere Gallery returned the “Woodsman”s House” to Eugenia Steiner”s heirs. The portrait of Gertrude Steiner was sold through the auction house “Dorotheum” in 1941, and since then, its whereabouts are not known. The same fate was happily avoided by Water Snakes II, which was acquired by Gustav Uchitzky.

How seriously the third sister Aranka was into art, apart from the three posthumous portraits of her daughter Ria commissioned from Klimt, is not documented. In 1941 she and her younger daughter Lola Kraus were deported to Łódź, and in 1948 they were declared dead at Eugenia Steiner”s petition. Their restitution claims passed to their nephew Erich Lederer. In 2009, the heirs received the last, unfinished portrait from the Lentos Museum in Linz under restitution and sold it through Christie”s for 18.8 million pounds (approximately 22.67 million euros).


Karl Wittgenstein, a successful Gründerzeit entrepreneur and steel magnate, established himself as a patron of avant-garde artists by investing a large sum in the construction of the Secession House. Wittgenstein met Klimt through his eldest daughter Hermine, an artist and passionate admirer of his talent. In 1903, Wittgenstein acquired Klimt”s painting “Golden Knight”, which at the time was also called “Life is a struggle” and repeated the motif of the “Beethoven frieze”. In 1904, Karl Wittgenstein commissioned Klimt for a portrait of his youngest daughter, Margaretha, which he was unsuccessful in: the general opinion of all who knew Margaretha, the artist could not capture the character of the model. The customer received a portrait painted by Klimt at the junction of two different periods of creativity, and Wittgenstein did not like it. In the Wittgenstein house, the portrait was soon removed from view, then sold and finally, after a long journey with several transfers, ended up at the New Pinakothek in Munich.


Adele and Ferdinand Bloch-Bauer – the most famous of Gustav Klimt”s customers because of the notorious history of the restitution of the remains of their plundered art collection to the heiress – his niece Maria Altman, and the sale of a gold portrait of Adele for a record for 2006, $ 135 million. In addition to this his most famous portrait, Gustav Klimt painted in 1912 a second portrait of Adele in all the color splendor of the late period of the artist. In 1903, the Bloch-Bauers acquired The Birch Grove, and in 1910-1916, three more landscapes with Atterse.

Two years before her death, Adele Bloch-Bauer drew up a will in which she appointed her husband her sole heir and instructed him to order the transfer of six of Klimt”s existing paintings to the Austrian Gallery after his death. Adele appointed her brother-in-law Gustav Bloch-Bauer, Maria Altman”s father, as executor. A year after the death of Adele Gustav Bloch-Bauer, sent to the District Court of Vienna a letter of notification of the will, which specified: “Please note that the paintings mentioned Klimt are not the property of the testator, and her widower” and this fact later played a crucial role in the outcome of the restitution case Maria Altman. In the late 1930s, when the threat of anschluss became apparent, Ferdinand Bloch-Bauer made every effort to save his collection. In 1936 he gave the Austrian Gallery the Castle in Kammer on Atterze III landscape. Two days after the Anschluss, the 74-year-old Ferdinand Bloch-Bauer abandoned everything and fled Austria to his palace near Prague, and from there to Paris and on to Zurich. His kin were persecuted and arrested. Maria”s niece Fritz Altman”s husband was deported to Dachau. His brother Gustav died in July 1938, his children and widow left the country with great difficulty. Ferdinand Bloch-Bauer”s property was confiscated in execution of a court decision on a trumped-up case of tax evasion. All of the Bloch-Bauers” art treasures went under the hammer, and only five paintings by Klimt were given to the Austrian Gallery thanks to the efforts of its new director Bruno Grimschitz.

After the war, Ferdinand Bloch-Bauer tried to initiate the restitution process, but died in 1945 without any results. The restitution of the five paintings by Gustav Klimt stored in the Belvedere Gallery took place 60 years later. Initially, Maria Altman planned to keep the paintings in the gallery on condition that she was recognized as the rightful heir, which did not happen, because there was allegedly no legal recourse for the restitution proceedings for the Klimt paintings. This refusal forced Altman to change her intentions, and when the decision to give the paintings to the heiress was finally made, she in turn resolutely refused the Belvedere Gallery, which had applied to keep the paintings in Austria as a museum loan. Austria waived its right of first refusal, and the two portraits and three landscapes by Klimt went to Los Angeles, where they were sold in 2006. The desire of Adele and Ferdinand Bloch-Bauer to make their Klimt paintings available to the public was only fulfilled with Golden Adele, which was purchased for the New Gallery by Ronald Lauder.

Prima vesi

The Primavezi spouses from Olomouc, banker Otto and actress Eugenia, financed the Vienna workshops and placed two large orders for portraits with Gustav Klimt: Portrait of their daughter Meda (1912) and Eugenia Primavezi (1913). “Portrait of Meda” is Klimt”s only large-format, representative childhood portrait. Its parents commissioned it as a Christmas present for their daughter. Together with Josef Hoffmann and Anton Hanack, Klimt visited the Primavasi country house in Winkelsdorf, where lavish feasts and costume parties, unprecedented in wartime, were held. Klimt even hosted the Primavasi family during their Vienna trip in his studio on Feldmühlgasse in Hitzing, showing the children his paintings and oriental silk garments. For Christmas 1914, Otto Primavasi bought for his wife “Hope II”, which decorated the cabinet of their town house, in 1938 went to the New Gallery, and in the 1970s was sold to the New York Museum of Modern Art. The Primaveras tried their best to support the artist during the war and in May 1916 bought for 8 thousand crowns (about 12,650 euros) the painting “Litzlbergkeller” at Atterse. At the auction, organized by Gustav Nebehaem after Klimt”s death in 1919, Primavesi purchased the painting “Child”. When she left for Canada in 1949, Meda Primavasi took with her the portrait of her mother, which for a long time was considered lost, and in 1987 it was sold by her at Sotheby”s auction and went to the Toyotas City Art Museum. Meda Primavesi, the last eyewitness to observe Klimt at work, died in 2000. Meda”s childhood portrait was owned by Jenny Steiner and was donated in 1964 by her heirs to the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art in memory of her mother.


Gustav Klimt did not paint a portrait of his protector and passionate admirer of his talent journalist Bertha Zuckerkandl, wife of anatomist Emil Zuckerkandl, but probably thanks to her other members of the Zuckerkandl family became his customers. In 1912 Klimt painted a portrait of Paula Zuckerkandl, wife of industrialist Viktor Zuckerkandl, and in 1917-1918 he worked on the remaining unfinished portrait of Amalia Zuckerkandl, wife of urologist Otto Zuckerkandl. In 1908, Victor Zuckerkandl purchased the landscape “Poppy Field” at the Vienna Art Exhibition. Amalia Redlich, sister of Victor, Otto and Emil Zuckerkandl, is connected to the restitution of Gustav Klimt”s landscape “Litzlberg on Atterse” from the Salzburg Museum of Modern Art in 2011. Amalia Redlich inherited the Klimt landscape from Viktor and Paula Zuckerkandl in 1938, and in 1941 she and her daughter were deported to Poland and killed in a concentration camp in Lodz. The landscape confiscated from Redlich was sold to an art dealer, Friedrich Welz, who exchanged it in 1944 for a piece from the Salzburg Land Gallery. After a lengthy check of the painting”s provenance, which confirmed the rights to it of Georg Jorisch, the 83-year-old grandson of Amalia Redlich, who had miraculously survived the war with his father in the Netherlands and was living in Canada, the Salzburg museum authorities decided positively on restitution without a court case. The painting went to Canada and was sold at auction at Sotheby”s for $40.4 million in the fall of 2011. In gratitude for the quick decision, without bureaucratic hurdles, Georg Jorisch gave the Salzburg museum an impressive sum for the reconstruction of one of the museum buildings. The house of Amalia Redlich on the grounds of the Purkersdorf Sanatorium contained two landscapes by Klimt. In 2010, Georg Jorisch had already recovered his family”s Klimt landscape “Church in Kasson” from a private collection in Graz: The painting was sold at an auction at Sotheby”s, with the proceeds divided between the two parties.


Dr. Anton Löw ran one of Vienna”s most modern and largest private hospitals, the “Sanatorium Löw”, was an art enthusiast and one of the first patrons of the Vienna Secession. Until 1920, Klimt”s painting Judith I was in his collection. In 1902, on the occasion of his 55th birthday, he commissioned Klimt for 10,000 crowns a portrait of his 19-year-old daughter Gertrude, which was enthusiastically received by critics at many exhibitions. Until the Anschluss of Austria, the portrait adorned the salon of the Löw Palace in Vienna. After her father”s death in 1907, Gertrude Löw, married Felschöwanny, took over the management of the sanatorium. She left Austria following her son Anthony in 1939, leaving behind property worth 90,000 reichsmarks. Dr. Löw”s sanatorium underwent arianization. Much of the Löw collection disappeared without a trace. In 1941, the portrait of Gertrude Löw and six drawings by Klimt from the Löw collection ended up with Gustav Uchitzky. Anthony Felschöwanny, 99, died in October 2013 without waiting for the settlement of the disputed property with his widow Ursula Uchitzki, which took place as a result of a so-called “private restitution” in 2015.


Gustav Uchitzky, the illegitimate son of Gustav Klimt by Maria Uchitzky, worked as a director at the UFA film studio and made a career under the National Socialists. In March 1940, he managed to negotiate with the authorities in Vienna and bought back the painting Water Snakes II confiscated from Jenny Steiner before the auction at the Dorotheum. By the 1950s, Uchitzky owned the largest private collection of Klimt works, which in addition to the portrait of Gertrude Löw and “Water Snakes II” included the landscape “Castle in Kammer am Atterse” from the Bloch-Bauer collection, “Portrait of a Lady” from the collection of textile magnate Bernhard Altman, Maria Altman”s brother-in-law, “Peasant House with Birches” from the Georg and Hermina Lazus collection and “Apple Tree II”. The last three works of restitution went to the Belvedere Gallery after Gustav Uchitski”s death and were subsequently returned to their original owners. In 2013, Ursula Uchitzki settled her dispute with Jenny Steiner”s heirs over the ownership rights to the painting Water Snakes II by selling it privately through Sotheby”s for $112 million. With the half of the sum owed her, Ursula Uchitski founded the private foundation Gustav Klimt – Vienna 1900, to which she gave a portrait of Gertrude Löw and five of the six drawings from Löw”s collection. In June 2015, the portrait of Gertrude Löw was sold at Sotheby”s for 22 million pounds, which was divided between the heirs and the foundation. According to the newspaper Der Standard, the portrait was purchased by the British millionaire Joe Lewis. The heirs of Gertrude Leuve had to pay the Klimt Foundation for five drawings half of their value. “Apple Tree II” gallery Belvedere in 2001 as part of the restitution mistakenly returned to the heirs of Nora Stiasna, daughter of Otto and Amalia Zuckerkandle, although before the confiscation of the Third Reich work belonged to Serena Lederer.

There are many legends surrounding the personality of Gustav Klimt, and very few of them are tentatively confirmed by facts. Klimt did not leave extensive statements about himself and his art. He paid little attention to his own persona at all, not considering himself an interesting person. In his few official statements there is not a single word that allows us to judge any definite views on art policy, with the exception of the general liberal idea of the autonomy and unrestricted freedom of the artist. For the most part, the personality of Gustav Klimt is known secondhand, hiding the real man behind a dense verbal veil of admiration, idolization and overt flattery. His younger sister Hermina Klimt, the writer Hermann Bar, the art critic Ludwig Hevesi, the journalist Bertha Zuckerkandl, and the artist”s first biographer Hans Tietze have all left their memories of Gustav Klimt as a person.

Accustomed to the public attention, the love and hatred of the public at the same time, Klimt led a life independent of the categories of bourgeois society in every respect: dressed up in loose gowns without trying to add elegance to his appearance, communicated in the highest circles in Viennese dialect as well, remaining a native of the people, practiced promiscuity, discarded the academic style, and became close to the Jewish bourgeoisie, which elevated him above other, less daring artists to the level of the ideal leader of the Secession. According to the recollections of Ludwig Hevesy, Klimt behaved powerfully, he always had his own opinion, which he clearly articulated, which did not cause antipathy, but rather demonstrated his credible power: “Here he sits in the middle of the long side of the table, simple and emphatic, radiating power, born to be the center of attention…He is not a speaker, though he always has something to say. He has a way of throwing in a word or two so briefly, firmly or sarcastically, as if he were part of the consensus or, indeed, setting the tone for it. And it always makes sense, and he always picks sides decisively. His accent, his pace, his gesticulation are encouraging. So young people can in any case look up to him and trust him unconditionally.” In the epicenter of Viennese cultural life, Klimt avoided publicity in every way, did not like to make speeches and even kept his friends away from his family.

Alfred Lichtwark, the German art historian and director of the Hamburg Kunsthalle, describes Klimt as a stocky and even obese man, tanned like a sailor, with a cheekbone face and lively little eyes. To keep his face from appearing round, he combed his hair up over his temples, a detail that could only hint at his artistic inclinations. Klimt”s mannerisms were good-natured, down-to-earth and simple, he spoke loudly, with a strong Austrian accent, and enjoyed bantering with people. This outward appearance concealed the deep depression that had overtaken Klimt after the death of his brother Ernst. In May 1899 in a letter to Karl Moll, Klimt admitted: “I have for years inexpressibly unhappy man, it is not visible to me, people think the opposite, even envious of me. Whatever I have done in the last seven or eight years, my companions are unhappiness and sorrow.

Gustav Klimt did not like to rant about himself or his work and had no literary ambitions. He famously quoted: “I am not good at speaking and writing, certainly not when it comes to talking about myself or my work. The thought of writing an ordinary letter already makes me nauseous.” From the scant references on the postcards he sent to Emilia Flege from his travels in Europe, it appears that he was impressed only by three things: the “unheard-of luxury” of the mosaics in Rwanda, the paintings of El Greco in Toledo and the African sculptures in the Congo Museum. In an essay entitled “Commentary on a non-existent self-portrait” he claimed: “I have never painted self-portraits. I am much less interested in myself as the subject of a painting than in other people, especially women… There is nothing special about me. I am a painter, painting day after day from morning till night… Whoever wants to know something about me… must look closely at my paintings”. According to Erich Lederer”s recollection, Klimt once told him with a wink: “There are only two artists – Velázquez and I.”

Gustav Klimt”s daily life was surrounded by numerous bourgeois habits from which he was not prepared to retreat. With childlike helplessness, Klimt even shifted decisions on business matters to others. There is a typical story about a customer of Klimt, who expected an answer to his long letter, but received only a telegram that read “Letter later. Klimt” and no letter. Gustav Klimt”s day would begin with barbell training, followed by a four-kilometer walk from his Westbahnstrasse apartment to Schönbrunn Palace, where he would have a hearty breakfast with friends and colleagues in the atmosphere of the Tivoli entertainment center in Old Vienna. It was strictly forbidden to talk about art during breakfast. According to Ludwig Hevesy, Klimt could party with childlike directness among close friends, but in society he disguised himself as a reticent person who did not encourage conversation and did not even seem to follow its progress, yet he knew exactly when to say his weighty word. From Schönbrunn Klimt would take the fiacre or again walk to his workshop, where he would work diligently in solitude until evening, surrounded by a pack of his favorite cats. To find the ideal composition for a painting, Klimt drew magnificent sketches on paper one after the other with amazing speed, the sheets immediately ended up on the floor, and when it was no longer possible to move around in the studio, he piled them into tall towers that exploded with the slightest whiff of wind. Klimt, a man of mood, needed routine in order to maintain his creativity. So he defended himself: his studio was open only to the select few who knew the secret knock. He did not want to see anyone at work and demanded peace and quiet. It is known that in the anteroom of Klimt”s studio there were always several not quite dressed models waiting, whom the master summoned to him as needed, and paid them five crowns an hour to wait. Klimt did not talk to the models while he was working, but passionately recited Dante”s Divine Comedy, which he allegedly never let out of his hands.

Klimt rarely traveled, but in the years 1898-1916 he went with the Flöge family for the summer from stuffy Vienna to Salzkammergut, where he spent his time scenery and studying with his niece Helena, and in his later years he regularly went to Bad Gastein for treatment. Friends managed to persuade him to go only if they would take care of all the arrangements. In 1903 he visited Italy twice, in 1906 with Fritz Werndorfer in Brussels, and from there through Ostend to London. In the autumn of 1909 Karl Moll persuaded Klimt to go to Paris and from there to Madrid, and both cities failed to impress the artist. Only El Greco in Toledo improved his mood. When traveling, he quickly fell into nostalgia and near hypochondria anxiety about his health. After gaining European recognition, Klimt still very often refused to travel to international exhibitions featuring his paintings.

In the summer at the Attersee, as a letter from Gustav Klimt to his mistress Mitzi Zimmermann in Vienna in 1903 shows, he was just as rigid in his daily routine: he rose early and went to bed early, spent all his time working on landscapes or studying his Japanese books, distracted only by meals, an early long walk in the woods, a morning swim, a nap in the afternoon and a boat ride in the evening. And even if Klimt was more sociable during the summer holidays, he chose quiet and secluded places and lodgings there: in 1898 in St. Agatha near Bad Goisern, from 1900 in a guesthouse at the Friedrich Paulick villa on the Attersee, and then until 1907 nearby, in an estate in Litzlberg. In 1908-1912 the company stayed at the Villa Oleander with its garden and pier in Kammer am Atterse. In 1913 Klimt vacationed with his family on Lake Garda, and from the summer of 1914 he returned to Weissenbach on the southern shore of the Atterse. In Weissenbach, Klimt and the Flöge family lived in separate houses at some distance from each other. According to local recollections, Emilia Flöge and Gustav Klimt spent their days together, he was often seen with an easel in the garden or riding a bicycle, but he looked sullen and unfriendly and did not communicate with either of them. An unsubstantiated legend has formed from the memories of locals over the years that the unsociable Klimt would work on his landscapes in the Atterse, even when it was raining and windy, and sometimes even sitting in a boat. According to contemporaries, in the last years of his life, the artist”s need for solitude in nature only increased. A few days after his death, Hermann Bahr confessed: “In general, only now have I fully grasped how magnificent his life was in the last six or seven years, after he had completely withdrawn. This kind of detachment is necessary for a full-fledged Austrian existence.

Gustav Klimt was fond of photography from a young age and made use of its possibilities in his work on the Burgtheater frescoes in 1888, and in hard times he moonlighted as a photographer by enlarging and coloring photographs. The artist also often worked with portraits. At the XIII exhibition of the Vienna Secession in 1902, Gustav Klimt”s photographic portrait of Maria Henneberg was presented, and the New Year issue of German Art and Decoration featured photographs of Emilie Flöge in her own production of Klimt”s reformed gowns in Litzlberg. Photography simplified the artist”s work on the paintings as well, freeing up time for both him and the portrayed. It is known that the faces and hands in the portraits of Sonja Knips, Maria Henneberg, Emilia Flöge, Margaret Stonborough-Wittgenstein, Fritz Riedler and Adele Bloch-Bauer were painted from photographs. Klimt worked slowly and meticulously: he finished the landscapes with Utterse in the Vienna workshop from numerous sketches, photographs and postcards.

The lady painter Klimt was quite choosy about commissions, and as his popularity grew, more than once he consistently and confidently refused customers. Decisive factors for accepting an order were close personal ties or an interest in a woman”s personality. For example, Klimt turned down a kind customer for a frieze by Adolph Stoclet to paint a portrait of his wife Susanna. And the famous Max Liebermann, who asked for a portrait of his daughter and hospitably offered to stay at his house in Berlin for the duration of the work, Klimt replied that he agreed to paint the portrait, but that he could not work in Berlin and that the Freuleinne would have to come to Vienna. From the many portraits of women that Klimt commissioned during his lifetime, he was interested in educated, emancipated, often divorced, and necessarily wealthy and dapper. They are fond of art, music, theater and literature, hospitable hostesses of secular salons, and, importantly, belong mostly to the upper classes of the large Jewish bourgeoisie, to whom the artist owes much of his success.

Most of the sponsors and collectors of Klimt”s work are Jews, but for Gustav Klimt this did not play a special role, for they celebrated both Hanukkah and Christmas, convinced that through assimilation, without being religious or having converted to Christianity, they were perceived as full citizens. Stefan Zweig, an Austrian, Jew, humanist and pacifist wrote in Yesterday”s World: “Nine-tenths of what the world dubbed the Viennese culture of the nineteenth century was a culture sustained, nourished or created by Jewry. For it was precisely in recent years that Viennese Jewry became creatively fruitful, creating art not at all specifically Jewish but, on the contrary, profoundly and emphatically Austrian, Viennese in essence.”

Klimt”s letter to Marguerite Stonborough-Wittgenstein”s parents indicates that in 1905 he was asking five thousand guilders for a formal portrait, which corresponds in purchasing power to a modern-day €63,000. One of the best-paid artists in Austria of his time, Klimt was not experiencing financial difficulties, but also did not seek to strengthen its financial position: “There is still in life such a bad vulgarity, to save up capital. Earned money you need as quickly as possible to spend. If you could oblige all the people, all the economic woes in the world would just end. The artist himself followed his own rule: although he earned a lot, money after his death was not found in the inheritance. Klimt was not prone to austerity and was generous with those around him. He supported his family, paid his models more than most other artists, and readily came to the rescue if they had money problems. According to Bertha Zuckerkandl, Klimt helped his models pay their rent and bury their father; for him, human relations were much more important than financial calculation. This was known to many, and there were those who abused his kindness. But Klimt used to say: “I”d rather give money to a scoundrel than not to a poor man.

There are two amusing stories about Klimt”s generosity to the models who worked for him: the pregnant Herma and the young man whose arm Klimt broke in a wrestling match. One day Herma, one of Klimt”s regular models, suddenly didn”t show up at the studio. Klimt became angry, but also worried and sent to find her. It turned out that the unmarried Herma had an unwanted pregnancy, and she was embarrassed to report it, even though her modeling income was used to feed the whole family. Without hesitation, Klimt invited Herma to pose, because Klimt did not care about social norms and decency, and this is the story of the scandalous painting “Hope I”, whose owner Fritz Werndorfer had to keep it tightly closed shut at home. In the second story, a weightlifter, who often worked with Klimt, once got tired of a long pose, and in order to stretch, the artist offered him a friendly wrestle and accidentally broke his arm. The young man continued to work in Klimt”s studio with his arm in plaster, as if nothing had happened, and the artist paid for his hospital stay and compensated him. Nevertheless, the egocentric Klimt abused the endless gratitude of his models, mostly very young girls from poor families who could not refuse him sexual intimacy. His model, the Prague laundress Maria Uchicki, became pregnant at the age of 17.

Gustav Klimt was never married, but there were many women in his private life. Klimt voluntarily acknowledged three children: Maria Uchitski”s son Gustav and two sons – Gustav and Otto, who died a year old – to Maria Zimmermann and supported them financially. Upon learning of Zimmermann”s pregnancy upon his return from Italy, Klimt wrote her a ten-page letter in which he confessed that he felt despair and guilt and promised to take care of her and the future child as husband and father. Klimt”s mother of two children Mitzi Zimmermann occupied a very limited and isolated place in his life, the artist did not advertise his paternity, his environment – family, colleagues, patrons – could only see her in his paintings. After the artist”s death, 14 children claimed his inheritance, but in the end only four were recognized as heirs. From the unpublished correspondence of Emilie Flöge with her brother Hermann and her mother Barbara, it follows that Klimt was syphilitic.

Sonja Knips, born Baroness Poitier de Escheus, was one of Klimt”s portrait subjects, with whom, according to some accounts, he had a loving relationship before her marriage to the industrialist Anton Knips in 1896. A woman of modernity and originality, she was not only a client of Klimt, the Vienna workshops that decorated her villa, and the atelier of the Flöge sisters, but also a staunch supporter of Secessionist ideals. In addition to her portrait, which she never parted with until her death, and other works by Klimt, her legacy includes a red album with a portrait of the artist and his sketches, including Philosophy, Medicine, Naked Truth, Water in Motion, Wandering Lights, Black Bull and Judith, which she probably left as a keepsake of the artist. The love affair between them is also evidenced by a paper fan painted by Klimt with a Persian sonnet dedicated to Sonja. According to the recollections of Sonja Knips”s relatives, she, like Emilia Flöge, left Klimt because he was not ready to marry. The marriage to Knips, though it provided Sonja with financial independence, did not bring her marital happiness either.

In 1897, Gustav Klimt met the young Alma Schindler, the stepdaughter of his friend, the artist Karl Moll. By the age of 18, the musically and literarily gifted Alma was already known as “the most beautiful girl in Vienna”. The first meetings of the Secession were held in the Mollay salon, and Alma was sometimes present. In her biography, Alma Schindler wrote: “Very young, I met him at one of these secret meetings. He was the most talented of them all, he was 35, in the prime of his life, handsome in every way and already then very popular. His beauty and my fresh youth, his genius, my talents, our common penetrating musicality in life set us on the same tone. I was impermissibly naïve in matters of love, and he felt it and looked for me everywhere. According to Alma Mahler-Werfel”s autobiography, the unsuspecting Moll invited Klimt and several other art friends to join their family trip to Italy. In Italy, Klimt”s persistent courtship won Alma”s affection, and this did not go unnoticed by those around him. The love affair ended abruptly, having barely begun. In reality, the story might have looked different. Alma Schindler”s diary entries were published in 1997 and they show that even before Italy she was aware that she was flirting with a man who was already in a relationship with at least three women. But the grown-up and experienced man had turned Alma”s head so much that he even got her to agree to marry him by persistent questions and immediately refused her: he cannot marry her, marriage is absolutely unthinkable to him, and the reason is entirely his, and he loves Alma exclusively as a beautiful picture. In Italy, Klimt in his flirtation made some rudeness and thus turned away from himself offended the girl, and, having come to his senses, was so intrusive in his pleas for forgiveness that it finally noticed Alma”s stepfather and forced Klimt immediately return home from Italy. In order not to lose his friend, Klimt wrote Moll a long letter of apology in which he called himself an old donkey who foolishly thought himself worthy of the first love of a flowering child, and complained about the occasional interruption in his brain activity. Karl Moll generously forgave his friend.

Emilia Flöge ended her love affair with Klimt just when he became infatuated with Alma Schindler, realizing that there would always be other women in his life besides her. The American historian Karl Schorske, in his work “Vienna. Spirit and Society fin de siècle,” drew biographical parallels between Klimt and Freud and concluded that at the turn of the century the artist was experiencing a masculine crisis and could not accept the joys of family life or at least a permanent relationship. But Fleughe and Klimt remained lifelong soul mates for each other and maintained a close, trusting relationship. They spent a lot of time together, went to the theater together, appeared together at official events, and for many years spent summers together on the Atterse. Viennese society imagined Emilie Flöge as a holy martyr, who gave up her family and children for the personal freedom of an artist, sacrificially choosing the role of the muse of a brilliant artist, while overlooking the fact that she was a determined, successful and self-sufficient businesswoman. Neither Klimt nor Flöge ever commented on the nature of their relationship. No documents have survived that could shed light on their feelings for each other, other than a series of photographs in a relaxed setting on a summer vacation. After Klimt”s death, Emilia Flöge burned several baskets of her letters to him, and in 1983, when her archives were opened, they contained about four hundred letters and postcards from Klimt, among other things. But it was not love correspondence, but ordinary everyday and everyday messages, written in a brief, telegraphic style that in no way betrayed the emotional state or level of the relationship between them. This correspondence only confirms how strong the union of two extraordinary people was, no matter what was at the heart of it.

In 2006, the film “Klimt” about the life of the artist, directed by Raul Ruiz and starring John Malkovich, premiered. The film won the Federation of Russian Film Clubs prize as the best film in the main competition program of the XXVIII Moscow International Film Festival.

In 2009 the musical Gustav Klimt, starring Andre Bauer as Klimt and Sabine Nybersch as Emilie Flöge, premiered in Austria. From September 1 to October 7, 2012, the musical had its Viennese premiere.

Klimt”s image is also presented in the films “Mahler on the Couch” and “Bride of the Wind.

“The Woman in Gold is a 2015 film. The story of Maria Altmann, who tries to obtain justice: to recover the valuables taken from her family by the Nazis decades ago. Among the woman”s cultural treasures is the famous painting by Gustav Klimt “Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer”, sometimes called “Golden Adele”.


  1. Климт, Густав
  2. Gustav Klimt
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