Gustav Klimt

1862 Vienna – 1918 Vienna


Owning altogether 24 works – portraits, landscapes, and allegorical scenes – by this renowned Austrian painter, the Belvedere houses the world’s largest collection of oil paintings by Klimt. A co-founder of the Secession and initiator of both the Kunstschau of 1908 and the Internationale Kunstschau of the subsequent year, Klimt contributed considerably to the international avant-garde’s breakthrough in Vienna. The Belvedere’s collection illustrates Klimt’s development from his initial attempts at Historicism to his Secessionist style and late period, in which he also responded to Fauve influences and the younger generation of Austrian artists, including Egon Schiele.

Masterpieces of Gustav Klimt

Gustav Klimt was born on 14 July 1862, the second of seven children. When still studying at the Vienna School of Arts and Crafts, he founded a studio co-operative, the so-called Künstler-Compagnie or Company of Artists, together with his brother Ernst and Franz Matsch, one of his fellow students. Besides commissions related to the interior decoration of the municipal theatres of Karlsbad, Reichenberg, and Rijeka, the artists were entrusted with similar projects for the Vienna Burgtheater and the Museum of Art History in Vienna in the course of the development of the Ringstrasse.


In 1897, Klimt was among the founders of the Vienna Secession and became its first president. He was deeply committed to a renewal of the arts and the promotion of young artists, such as Egon Schiele and Oskar Kokoschka. However, a scandal flaring up over his Faculty Paintings in 1905 caused the artist to withdraw from public life. Henceforth, Klimt exclusively worked for the liberal-minded upper classes, painting his world-famous portraits of ladies. Their stylistic development is impressively visualized, from the early portrait of Sonja Knips (1898) to that of Fritza Riedler (1906), a sophisticated example of a rigid two-dimensional and ornamental painting style, and then on to the accomplished likeness of Johanna Staude (1917/18). Apart from these portraits, Klimt created mainly allegorical and symbolist works, the most famous of which is his depiction of two lovers (The Kiss, 1908).


During the summer months, Klimt frequently retired to Lake Atter in Upper Austria, where created most of his landscapes, like Poppy Field (1907), Sunflower (1907), and Avenue in the Park of Schloss Kammer (1912).


Gustav Klimt died from a stroke on 6 February 1918, at the age of 56 years. He left behind numerous unfinished paintings, including The Bride and Adam and Eve.


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