Today is the 154th anniversary of Gustav Klimt’s birthday. This Austrian Symbolist painter and one of the most prominent members of the Vienna Secession combined highly refined aesthetics, strong erotic tendencies, jewel-like painting surfaces, and use of abstract ornaments. He still is considered to be one of the greatest artists and this is a place where you will find all the things you need to know about his life.
1. He loved gold
Klimt was the second of seven children. His mother, Anna, had an unrealized ambition to be a musical performer. His father Ernst was a gold engraver. Maybe this is why Klimt LOVED gold. Between 1899-1910 when many of his paintings used gold leaf we can speak of the golden phase in his artistic life. He also travelled to Venice and Ravenna to get inspired by gold technique and the Byzantine imagery.
2. He prefered cosy style
In casual circumstances Klimt normally wore sandals and a long robe with no undergarments. He had a beard, a baritone voice, burning greenish-grey eyes and a direct manner that made plenty of women queue to be painted by him. One of them, Friederike Beer-Monti, who begged him to paint her portrait, described him as “exceptionally animal-like. His body exuded a peculiar odour. As a woman, one was really afraid of him”. But well, it didn’t matter a lot as you will read below.
3. He was a womanizer
Klimt was a serial seducer. Although very sexually active, he kept his affairs discreet and he avoided any personal scandals. After Klimt’s death, 14 legal claims for maintenance payments were made, four of which were accepted. But the artists never married, he lived quietly in an apartment with his mother and two of his sisters.
4. But had a real girlfriend
His closest and most enduring relationship was not with one of his many lovers but with Emilie Flöge, a businesswoman and a fashion designer. Flöge pioneered the extravagant but loose-fitting Reform Movement garments that freed women from the restrictive, corset-requiring fashions of an earlier age. They have exchanged four hundred postcards, but none suggests anything beyond the platonic. Klimt painted Flöge several times and her dresses appeared in numerous paintings, and the famous The Kiss, is thought to be an image of them as lovers.
5. He is one of the most expensive painters in the world
Klimt’s paintings have brought some of the highest prices recorded for individual works of art. In 2006, the portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I was purchased for the Neue Galerie New York by Ronald Lauder reportedly for US $135 million, surpassing Picasso’s 1905 Boy With a Pipe (sold in 2004 for $104 million), as the highest reported price ever paid for a painting. This painting has also had its story, presented in a recent movie “Woman in Gold” that tells the story of the restitution of the painting by Adele’s heirs.