Rejected by the self-respecting academic and political worlds, but rewarded with commissions from the liberal bourgeoisie, Gustav Klimt, the enfant terrible of the turn-of-the-century Viennese art scene, produced scandalous erotic paintings and drawings of mythological goddesses and heriones and ornate portraits of wealthy Viennese society ladies.

His work is exhibited at the Neue Galerie, located on 5th Avenue at 86th Street, across from Central Park in New York City. The institution is devoted to early twentieth-century German and Austrian art and design. Located in a landmark mansion built in 1914, the museum offers exhibitions, lectures, films, concerts, and other events.

The museum's second-floor galleries are dedicated to a rotating selection of fine art from Vienna circa 1900, including the works of artist, such as: Gustav Klimt, Egon Schiele, Oskar Kokoschka, Richard Gerstl, and Alfred Kubin.

The third-floor galleries present German fine and decorative art of the early 20th century, including work by: Max Beckmann, Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, Paul Klee, Marcel Breuer and other artists.

Gustav Klimt

Gustav Klimt, an Austrian Symbolist painter was one of the most prominent members of the Vienna Art Nouveau (Vienna Secession) movement. Born July 14, 1862 in Baumgarten, near Vienna, he was the second of seven children. His father, Ernst Klimt, who was formerly from Bohemia, was a gold engraver. His mother, Anna, who had aspired to become a musical performer, never realized her ambition. Like many other immigrants, during those difficult economic times, his family lived in poverty for most of his childhood days.

In 1876, at the age of 14, Klimt was enrolled in the Vienna School of Arts and Crafts, where he studied architectural painting until 1883.

Influenced by Hans Makart, the foremost history painter of the time, Klimt began his professional career painting interior murals and ceilings in large public buildings on the Ringstrase, a thoroughfare that encircles the city center of Vienna.

Klimt’s major works include paintings, murals, sketches, and other art objects, many of which are on display in the Vienna Secession gallery.

One of the most common themes Klimt utilized was that of the dominant woman - the femme fatale, and his works are marked by uninhibited eroticism.

Among the eclectic range of influences that contributed to Klimt's distinct style were Egyptian, Minoan, Classical Greek, and Byzantine inspirations. Klimt was also inspired by the engravings of Albrecht Dürer, late medieval European painting, and the Japanese Rimpa school.

Klimt's work is distinguished by his use of elaborate gold and colored geometric designs, which are used as symbolic elements to convey psychological ideas and emphasize the freedom of his art from traditional culture.

Recognized by Emperor Franz Josef I of Austria for his contributions to art, Klimt was awarded the Golden Order of Merit in 1888. He also became an honorary member of the University of Munich and the University of Vienna.

In the early 1890s, Klimt met Emilie Flöge, who in spite of his relationships with other women, was his companion until the end of his life. Klimt fathered at least 14 children.

Beginning in the late 1890s Klimt took annual summer holidays with the Flöge family on the shores of Attersee, where he painted many of his landscapes. These landscapes represent the only genre aside from the human figure that seriously interested him.

In 1894, Klimt was commissioned to create three paintings to decorate the ceiling of the Great Hall in the University of Vienna. His three paintings - Philosophy, Medicine and Jurisprudence - were criticized for their radical and pornographic themes. Because of public outcry from political, aesthetic, and religious groups, the paintings were not displayed on the ceiling of the Great Hall. This was the last public commission accepted by the Klimt. Ironically, all three paintings were ultimately destroyed by retreating German SS forces in May 1945.

The Kiss, which Klimt painted in oil on canvas in 1907-1908, during his Golden Phase, received positive response from art critics. Today its reproductions are very popular .

Many of Klimt's paintings from this period utilized gold leaf; including his famous, Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer. Klimt’s gold technique and his Byzantine imagery were most likely inspired during his trips to Venice and Ravenna, which are both famous for their beautiful mosaics.

Klimt’s life was simple; he worked in his home, devoted to his art and family, and he had little interest in anything else, except the Secessionist Movement. He avoided café society and social contact with other artists. Though very active sexually, he kept his affairs discreet and he avoided personal scandal.

Like Rodin, Klimt also utilized mythology and allegory to thinly disguise the highly erotic nature of his drawings. His models, many of whom were prostitutes, posed in any erotic manner that pleased him.

Klimt's painting method was very deliberate and painstaking and he required lengthy sittings by his subjects.

His fame brought many patrons to his door, so he could afford to be highly selective.

Although Klimt wrote little about his vision or methods, he did write that, “ I am a painter and whoever wants to know something about me... ought to look carefully at my pictures.”

In 1911, his painting Death and Life received first prize in the world exhibitions in Rome.

Klimt died in Vienna on February 6, 1918, after suffering a stroke and pneumonia, three years after his mother had died. He was interred at the Hietzing Cemetery in Vienna. He left numerous paintings unfinished.

Klimt's paintings became very valuable and were sought after by art collectors. In 2006, Klimt's 1907 portrait, Adele Bloch-Bauer I, was purchased for the Neue Galerie in New York by Ronald Lauder for a reported $135 million dollars. This price surpassed the price of Picasso's 1905, Boy With a Pipe, which was sold in 2004 for $104 million, as the highest reported price ever paid for a painting.

Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer II, was sold at Christie’s auction in 2006 for $88 million. It was the third-highest priced work of art sold at auction at the time. The Apple Tree I, (1912) sold for $33 million, Birch Forest (1903) sold for $40.3 million, and Houses in Unterach on Lake Atter (1916) sold for $31 million.

Story edited by Mel Fenson
material supplied by
the Neue Galerie,
from Susanna Partsch's book,
Gustav Klimt, Painter of Women,
and Web Sources


Currently on exhibit at the Neue Galerie, from September 25, 2008 through January 26, 2009 are over 100 works on paper by the artist Alfred Kubin, dated from 1897 to 1909. This is the first major museum exhibition of his work ever held in the United States. It focuses on his early drawings, watercolors, and litho-graphs, which often depict nightmarish scenes. The exhibition was organized by Annegret Hoberg, curator of the Städtische Galerie im Lenbachhaus, Munich.


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