Analyzing Gustav Klimt’s Paintings
Gustav Klimt (1862 – 1918) was an Austrian symbolist painter who helped lead the Vienna Secession movement. Although he is mainly remembered because of his paintings during his so-called Golden Phase, there are many other famous Klimt paintings.
The more you learn about Klimt’s famous paintings, the more you admire this painting genius. He is a prolific artist whose work includes drawings, landscapes, and figurative works such as portraits and allegories.
To help you learn more about the painter Klimt, we’ll briefly analyze 8 of his famous works.
The “Old Burgtheater” – as Naturalist
Gustav Klimt’s professional career started in the 1880s when he formed the “Company of Artists” to paint murals across Vienna. In 1886, the “Company of Artists” decorated the Burgtheater. It was a great success.
As a result of the excellent work at the Burgtheater, Klimt received another commission. He had to paint the Auditorium of the Old Burgtheater. This painting, the “Old Burgtheater,” is almost photographically accurate. Art lovers and critics consider it one of the most outstanding achievements in Naturalist painting.
It was one of the last Klimt Naturalist artworks, and the Emperor awarded Klimt the Emperor’s Prize for this painting and his other achievements.
Philosophy (final state) – Gustav Klimt
Klimt’s works after 1897 were created in the style of the Secessionist Movement, of which he was a co-founder. As part of this liberating movement, Klimt rejected Vienna’s traditionally conservative art scene, and he started to experiment with his art.
At the same time, he came under the influence of other art movements, including Japanese art and methods, and he developed his symbolist style. The symbolist style of art involved the use of the female body as its primary subject, and Klimt used his work to express an erotic viewpoint. Visitors can check out Gustav Klimt artworks, like “The Kiss,” “Judith I,” and “Judith II” at the Great Hall of the University of Vienna. One of them was “Philosophy,” which was described by Klimt himself as follows: “On the left a group of figures, the beginning of life, fruition, decay. On the right, the globe is a mystery. Then, emerging below, a figure of light: knowledge.” Critics of the time were upset by Klimt’s depiction of men and women drifting in an aimless trance.
Medicine (Hygieia) – Gustav Klimt
The second painting in the series for the Millennium Great Hall was called “Medicine.” It features a column of nude figures representing the river of life. A young nude female is floating in space with a newborn infant at her feet. The infant means life. A skeleton represents death.
The mythological daughter of the god of medicine is at the bottom of the painting. She stands with the Aesculapian snake around her arm and the cup of Lethe in her hand. Her back is turned to humanity.
Physicians seriously criticized Klimt for what they saw as his almost pornographic depiction of the human form and his suggestion that medicine is unable to prevent death.
Jurisprudence – Gustav Klimt
“Jurisprudence” was the third painting in the Great Hall series. At the top of the canvas are three female figures. They represent Justice, Law, and Truth. Behind them are decapitated heads of judges.
The older man in the foreground represents the victim. Klimt depicts the law as vengeful, focusing on crime and punishment. As was to be expected, critics and art academics did not care for the artwork.
Art lovers and critics described this painting as pornographic. Actually, all three works for the Great Hall were widely criticized as pornographic. As a result, the three paintings were never put in place in the Great Hall.
Art lovers generally consider the 1898 painting Pallas Athene by Gustav Klimt to be the earliest work in his famous Golden phase. It is an oil painting depicting the Greek goddess Athena, clad in armor, with her hair tied up in a traditional fashion. The painting shows the classical influences on Klimt, but his use of gold and patterns indicate a change in his style.
Klimt depicts Athena fully formed and fully armed from the head of Zeus, dressed for battle. Klimt broke away from the tradition where Pallas Athena bore a shield with the head of Medusa and gave his version by depicting a grotesque face with its tongue sticking out. Athena is seen as a formidable woman in this representation. She is depicted in a stiff vertical posture, with a straight spear – a woman with power.
Another early example of gold-ground painting is “Judith I,” the piece that featured a woman portrayed in a decorative setting. Klimt depicts the female figure with erotic undertones in much of his work.
Klimt depicts Judith in a similar pose as Pallas Athena but with her chin raised. The viewer has to look up into her face. Her parted lips and half-closed eyes give the portrait an erotic feel. Her open robes also enhance the erotic feel.
Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I
Portrait Of Adele Bloch Bauer I -Gustav Klimt
Vienna’s upper-class women often commissioned Klimt to paint their portraits, and in 1907 he completed the Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I—a portrait of a wealthy Jewish banker. The painting has a dreamlike quality due to its use of the gold leaf.
The impact of Egyptian art on Klimt is noticeable in the painting. The portrait is also famous for the mix of naturalism in painting the face and hands and the ornamental gilded decoration used for the dress, chair, and background.
The Kiss – Gustav Klimt
Klimt started to experiment with adding gold to his paintings in his so-called Golden Phase. During this phase, Klimt completed “The Kiss.”
It is probably Klimt’s most famous painting. It depicts a woman and a man as they embrace a patch of flowers. They are clad in contrasting patterns. The wraps are composed of gilded forms. This painting has love, intimacy, and sexuality as common themes as in most of Gustav Klimt’s works.
“The Kiss” has mesmerized its viewers since its completion in 1908. Currently, it is exhibited in Vienna’s esteemed Österreichische Galerie Belvedere.
The Bottom Line
As the leader of the Secession Movement, Gustav Klimt’s artworks have become famous. However, even art lovers who are not well informed about Klimt’s works know about the three Great Hall paintings that have never been placed in the Hall and his Golden Phase, where he experimented with gold in his paintings.