Gustav Klimt and Vienna around 1900

There are a number of links between the iconic artist Gustav Klimt (1862 - 1918) and the Belvedere in Vienna, which houses the world’s greatest collection of Austrian art. It was on the initiative of Klimt and other artists that the Moderne Galerie was founded in 1903, the institution that has evolved into the Belvedere. The aim was to create a place for contemporary Austrian art and to present this in an international context. The Belvedere’s curatorial work and exhibitions are based on this premise to this day.

Gustav Klimt mit Katze im Arm
© Belvedere, Wien
World’s Largest Collection of Klimt’s Paintings
Menschen im Ausstellungsraum mit Gemälden von Gustav Klimt
Foto: Ouriel Morgensztern, © Belvedere, Wien

With twenty-four works, the Belvedere holds the world’s largest collection of oil paintings by this iconic artist, including the two masterpieces from his Golden Period, Kiss (Lovers) and Judith, major portraits (Sonja Knips, Fritza Riedler, and Johanna Staude etc.), landscapes, and allegorical depictions. The collection also includes one of Klimt’s sketchbooks and his monumental Beethoven Frieze at the Vienna Secession. Gustav Klimt’s masterpieces are on permanent display at the Upper Belvedere. In this comprehensive collection, Klimt’s development can be traced from his early explorations of Historicism through to Secessionism and finally to his late work, which reveals the influence of the Fauves and the younger generation of Austrian artists such as Egon Schiele.

 

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The Kiss
Menschen vor Gustav Klimts "Der Kuss"
Foto: Ouriel Morgensztern, © Belvedere, Wien

The Kiss (Lovers) by Gustav Klimt is the most famous Austrian painting and the highlight of the permanent collection at the Upper Belvedere. It shows a couple swathed in richly embellished robes embracing in a meadow of flowers on the brink of a precipice. The painting dates from 1907/08 at the height of Klimt’s “Golden Period” when the artist developed a new technique of combining gold leaf with oils and bronze paint. In this early-twentieth-work Klimt was making a general allegorical statement about love being at the heart of human existence. The fact that the painting still retains its immediacy and emotional impact is a testimony to the artist’s extraordinary achievement. The lovers’ garments are adorned with gold leaf and the background, too, is suffused with delicate gold, silver, and even platinum flakes. The Austrian state purchased the Kiss for the recently founded Moderne Galerie, which was housed at the Lower Belvedere, from its first exhibition in 1908. The painting has been in the Belvedere’s collections ever since.

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Biography of Gustav Klimt

 

 

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1862

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Gustav Klimt is born in Baumgarten, a suburb of Vienna. He is the second of seven children born to Ernest Klimt, a gold engraver from Bohemia, and Anna Rosalia, née Finster from Vienna.

 

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1876

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At the age of fourteen, Klimt enrols at the Kunstgewerbeschule [School of Applied Arts], which is attached to the Austrian Museum of Art and Industry, and starts his tuition in the painting class run by Professor Ferdinand Laufberger.

 

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1883

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Gustav Klimt, his brother Ernst and their classmate Franz Matsch found the Künstlercompagnie [Artists’ Company]. They are awarded many commissions including decorative schemes for the theatres in Vienna, Karlsbad, and Reichenberg.

 

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1885

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The Künstlercompagnie creates the paintings for the ceiling in Empress Elisabeth’s Hermesvilla in Lainz, Vienna.

 

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1886

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One of the Künstlercompagnie’s most important commissions is painting the magnificent staircases and interior at Vienna’s Burgtheater.
 

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1888

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Emperor Franz Joseph I awards the Klimt brothers and Franz Matsch the Golden Order of Merit for their work at the Burgtheater and Gustav Klimt the Imperial Prize for his depiction of the auditorium in the old Burgtheater.

 

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1890

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Commission to paint a series of paintings in the stairwell at the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna.

 

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1892

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Death of Klimt’s father and his brother Ernst.

 

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1894

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Klimt and Matsch are awarded the commission for the ceiling paintings in the Great Hall at the University of Vienna, the so-called Faculty Paintings.

 

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1897

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Gustav Klimt co-founds and is the first President of the Vienna Secession.

 

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1898

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The Vienna Secession’s first exhibition and foundation of the magazine Ver Sacrum. Klimt becomes a member of the Internationale Vereinigung von Malern, Bildhauern und Graveuren [International Association of Painters, Sculptors, and Engravers] and a foreign member of the Munich Secession.

 

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1900

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The Faculty Painting Philosophy is heavily criticized and causes an uproar in Vienna but wins the gold medal at the World’s Fair in Paris.

 

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1901

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Medicine, the second of the three Faculty Paintings, also unleashes a storm of protest.

 

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1902

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Klimt creates the Beethoven Frieze (1901/02) for the exhibition of Max Klinger’s sculpture of Beethoven in the Secession.

 

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1903

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80 of Klimt’s paintings are shown in the Secession building in a Klimt Collective. Klimt travels to Ravenna where the golden mosaics make a deep impression on the artist.

 

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1905

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Klimt leaves the Vienna Secession following differences of opinion.

 

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1907

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Klimt meets Egon Schiele.

 

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1908

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Opening of the Kunstschau exhibition including the first display of Klimt’s The Kiss (Lovers).

 

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1910

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Klimt participates in the IX Biennale in Venice.

 

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1918

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Gustav Klimt suffers a stroke on 11 January and dies on 6 February in Vienna.

 

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