Who is Gustav Klimt?

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  • Written By: J. Beam
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 13 October 2019
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Gustav Klimt, an Austrian symbolist artist, was born in 1862. Best known for his paintings and murals, Gustav Klimt has many famous works including The Kiss, Adele Block-Bauer I, and Beethoven Frieze. His subjects were often women and his works are deemed elegant, though often sensual or erotic.

Gustav Klimt entered the Vienna School of Art at the age of 14. His brother, Ernst Klimt, enrolled the year after Gustav. They often worked together early in Klimt’s career and together, along with friend Franz Marsch, formed an artistic team they called The Company of Artists. Klimt’s professional career began as a painter of wall and ceiling murals in large, public buildings.

In 1897 Gustav Klimt became one of the founding members and first president of the Vienna Secession, which began the Secession movement that would later be known as Art Nouveau. The Secession gallery now displays many of Klimt’s pieces. Though Gustav Klimt was commissioned for a number of projects, including three paintings for the Great Hall at the University of Vienna, his works were often considered “pornographic” in nature and sometimes publicly criticized.

Later in his career, Gustav Klimt began using gold leaf techniques and employed the use of mosaic inspiration. Both The Kiss and Adele Block-Bauer I, painted in the early 1900s, feature similar techniques, easily distinguished by the dominance of gold tones. Like many artists, Gustav Klimt achieved his greatest success posthumously.


The 1916 World’s Fair in Berlin featured the work of Gustav Klimt. Two years later, on 16 February 1918, Gustav Klimt died of complications from pneumonia. Many of his works were left unfinished, some with palettes darker than normal, which likely reflected his grieving from the loss of his mother in 1915. In recent years, many of his works have resurfaced and have brought some of the highest prices paid to date for original works of art. Adele Block-Bauer I sold at public auction in 2006 for a record-breaking $135-million US Dollars.


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