Gustav Klimt is remembered for his highly controversial, yet strongly admired, works. He received much criticism for his deviation from artistic tradition with the obsession with such taboo subjects as the female form and eroticism.
Born on July 14, 1862 in Baumgarten, Vienna, Gustav Klimt was second eldest of seven children. His father, Ernst Klimt, was a gold engraver with an unsuccessful business, and his family lived in poverty.
Klimt showed artistic promise at a young age, and had formal art training at the Vienna School of Decorative Arts from1876 to 1883.
In 1882, Klimt opened a studio, Company of Artists, with his brother Ernst. They specialized in mural paintings, and were quite successful from the beginning. They received numerous commissions from theaters, museums and other institutions. These murals, however, eventually faced much criticism for their fantastical imagery and their bold, decorative style.
In response to this criticism, Gustav Klimt founded with other artists, in 1897, the Vienna Secession. These were a group of artists dedicated to challenging the conservative Academy of Fine Arts. Klimt became the group’s first president.
By that time Klimt developed his own characteristic style, which became the trademark of the movement. His work was categorized as “art nouveau”. This style was recognized as an International revolt against the traditional academic art style. The Art Nouveau movement favored organic lines and contours.
In 1900, his work Philosophy was exhibited at the Secession where it received strong protest.
After 1900 Klimt concentrated mostly on portraits and landscapes, composing one of his most prominent works, Roses under the Trees (c. 1905). However, he continued to work on commissions by the Vienna University for a series of ceiling murals. For these mural works Klimt used such materials as metal, glass and ceramics.
In 1901, his painting Medecine drew further criticism.
Klimt left the Secession in 1905, after quarreling with another member. He went on to design fashion and jewelry.
His best known painting The Kiss was first exhibited in 1908. It displayed the very subjects that he was continuously criticized over – sexuality and eroticism.
Despite all his criticism, Klimt’s skill did not go unrecognized. In 1917, he was named an honorary member of the Academy of Fine Arts in Vienna.
The year 1918 was challenging on Klimt’s health. On January 11 he suffered a stroke in his apartment, and on February 6 Gustav Klimt died of pneumonia at the age of fifty-five.