Gustav Klimt and the Art Nouveau Movement

Gustav Klimt and the Art Nouveau Movement

The life of the Austrian painter Gustav Klimt and the place of the Art Nouveau movement in the history of art.

Author: İdil Seçen – Galatasaray University
“Anyone who wants to know me as an artist should look carefully at my paintings and try to discover what I am and what I want.”

Gustav Klimt was the figure of the separatist movement that spread the Art Nouveau movement throughout the country at the beginning of the 20th century. The artist, who is a unique personality, caused a lot of controversy in his time due to the eroticism of his compositions in which life and death are intertwined. We share with you Klimt’s life, style and the effects of the Art Nouveau movement on art history.

Gustav Klimt’s Early Life
The artist was born in Austria in 1862. His father, Ernest Klimt, was a humble jeweler, and his mother, Anna Finster, was a singer. Klimt developed a taste for art at a very early age. He was only fourteen when he entered the School of Decorative Arts in Vienna. Here he learned the mosaic technique and became interested in the artistic understanding of Greek, Egyptian and even Slavic cultures, which will inspire his works in the future.

In 1883, he established a decoration workshop with his brother Ernst, a jeweler like his father, and his friend Frantz Matsch. During this period, he was working in an academic style that can be defined as Neo-Classical. He was tasked with decorating the walls and ceilings of villas, as well as theaters and public buildings. His frescoes with stylized floral motifs and scenes inspired by Antiquity would later cover the palaces of Vienna. In particular, the stairs of the Kunsthistorisches Museum had increased his reputation in the field of decoration, in 1888 he was awarded the Golden Cross for his artistic achievements. In addition to his reputation as a painter and decorator, his main field of expression was modern art. There was no real originality in the works he produced until the beginning of the 20th century, he was estranged from his personal tastes.

The early 1890s were tough years for Klimt. He was going to be a presidential candidate for the Department of Painting History of Fine Arts, but was rejected by the ministry. In addition, she was in a position to assume the financial security of her family upon the death of her brother. In the process, he became interested in French symbolism and impressionism. Although his reputation as an interior designer earned him important commissions, he wanted to devote himself to modern art. He found academia too traditional and conservative. Thus, he had decided to keep his personal style away from any academy.

Gustav Klimt’s Break From Academy
Klimt began publishing the Journal of Ver Sacrum (Holy Spring) in 1897 with Moser and some of his friends, including Joseph M. Olbrich. In the same year, they founded the Union of Figurative Artists, known as the “Separatists”, with nineteen artists from their Küntlerhauss. Their aim was to reform the understanding of art of the period and to make Austrian art internationally known. For the Separatists, art should raise awareness and move away from the traditionalism of the academy. Ver Sacrum magazine became the spokesperson for the Separatists’ desire to change the world. This establishment was, in a way, the reflection of the Art Nouveau movement in Vienna.

What is Art Nouveau?
Art Nouveau actually means “New Art”. Industrialization had a great role in the emergence of the movement whose foundations were laid in England. Artists wanted to free art from monotony and take it beyond the walls of the gallery. The movement, which prioritized aesthetic values, carried the traces of Far Eastern art and symbolism with ornaments with intense lines. It was aimed to unite different disciplines such as decorative art, music and painting, especially architecture, under “Total Art”. The main desire of the Separatists, the Austrian representation of the movement, was to break the barrier between Decorative Arts and Fine Arts.

Gustav Klimt’s Style and Major Works
His frequent use of gold tones, Byzantine mosaics and jewelery techniques were characteristic of Klimt’s style. Although his works were asymmetrical and perspectiveless, they were rich in ornaments. He brought mythology back to the agenda with his innovative compositions. She avoided traditional depictions of women in her portraits of women, in which symbolism came to the fore, and adorned her figures with decorative elements.

Der Kuss (The Kiss)

One of the artist’s most famous works is Der Kuss (The Kiss). Described as the culmination of Klimt’s golden age, this painting draws attention with its shimmering tones and abstract patterns. The golden frame surrounding the figures isolates them from the world. The placement of the figures is thought to be a composition of death and life.

Toward the end of Klimt’s career, he was awarded the titles of Austrian Intellectual Painter and Inventor of Decorative Art. In 1917 he was accepted an honorary member by the Academy of Arts in Vienna. In response to the criticism of the eroticism prominent in his works, “All art is erotic.” he would say. The artist, who died as a result of a stroke in 1918, created many works that would affect the artists after him, especially Egon Schiele.

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