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Gustav Klimt, the Golden Eye

2 août 2016

From relaxing landscapes to puzzling features of a woman face, the artistic life of Gustav Klimt is far from being a peaceful journey. Immersion into the mysterious life of a genius whose perpetual evolution gave him an extraordinary posthumous success.

A gold doer

When Gustav Klimt closed his eyes for the last time in 1918 in Vienna, due to pneumonia, no one suspected that almost a century later he would be part of the most expensive artists of the demanding international art market. In the early 2000s, several of his paintings from his gold period were trade for exorbitant prices. 


(Adèle Bloch-Bauer, 1907)

Just like in 2006, when $135 million were spent for Adele Bloch-Bauer I (1907) and nearly $327 million in the same year for a set of five artworks. Joining the circle of Van Gogh or Picasso, Gustav Klimt has earned a brilliant posthumous destiny and a social immortality way beyond the borders of his native Austria. An irony for this artist, at the time reviled by critics and often isolated in his countryside workshop.

Decorator with a solid reputation

In the Klimt family, one lives in small apartments when the father has a job and one must settle in Vienna suburban slums when the father looses it. Second of a seven children family, Gustav was born in 1862 in Baumgarten in this working class atmosphere. Very early attracted by the art universe, this gifted student attended the Decorative Arts University of Vienna classes, under the supervision of Ferdinand Laufberger. In 1879, he kicked off a decorator career along with his brother Ernst (1864-1892) and Hans Makart (1840-1884). Under the name of the Artists Company, the trio honors many commands from frescoed to emblems in pure academic neoclassical style. Although Hans Makart died in 1884 leaving the trio wounded, it was Ernst's death in 1892 combined with his father’s that led Gustav to break with academicism and to start a new era.

The break with academic style

Honored in 1888 by the Artistic Golden Order of Merit from the hands of Emperor Franz Joseph, Gustav Klimt started his first personal orders with a small experience. Bored by academic models, he got inspired by Japanese engravings and by the symbolism movement to produce majestic decorations, yet castigated. Klimt formalized his total break with the academicism by founding in April 1897 the group of the Viennese Secession along with Josef Olbrich , Koloman Moser, Josef Hoffmann, Joseph Maria Olbrich Max Kuzweil , Josef Engelhart and Ernst Stöhr. The paiting Pallas Athena is one of the most renowned examples of this movement.

(Pallas Athéna)

At that time, the major artwork of Gustav Klimt was a serie of three allegories, painted on the ceiling of the University of Vienna and illustrating the Philosophy, the Medicine and the Jurisprudence (1900-1907). Ordered before his shift, Klimt was then into symbolism, starved bodies and eroticism, the opposite of what had been ordered. Very far from convincing the critics, despite a gold medal at the Universal Exhibition in Paris, the artworks iniated a real polemic at the Parliament! Klimt redeemed his works, which were then destroyed by the Nazis in 1945. Gustav Klimt was chosen to illustrate a building designed by Josef Hoffman in the memory of Ludwig van Beethoven, and painted a tremendous  fresco of seven panels, spread over 34 meters and weighing nearly 4 tons. Approved by the conductor Gustav Mahler, this fresco depicted the artist's eagerness for happiness, for a suffering humanity, seeking its appeasement in Art. This is when Klimt started the tipping point of his career: the Golden Phase.

Decor and corps

Disinclined to travel, Gustav Klimt discovered Italy through Ravenna or Venice. In the city of Venice, he fell in love with the ceiling of the Basilica San Marco and its profusion of gold. This is how he started his famous Golden Phase that saw the creation between 1902 and 1907 of the Water Serpents, the portrait of Adele Bloch- Bauer and the Danae, all inspired by sacred Byzantine icons. In 1908, he quit both the gold technique and the Secession group and took shelter in his studio where he spent between 9-10 hours a day to paint and draw his favorite subject: women.

No one has ever seen Klimt painting, any intrusion into his studio was prohibited. In his obituary is written "Behind the wall that Klimt has drawn around him, even his friends have not been able to take a look." No artist of his time represented the female model better than him. Treated as a pornographer for his exacerbated eroticist drawings, he preferred to see in it a sacred and symbolic dimension. Only artworks still available on the Art market today, these drawings are for sale today for tens of thousands euros. If Gustav Klimt liked to draw them, he also had a life filled with women... since he is parent of fifteen children from several relationships. The only true love of his life will forever be Emilie Flöge, for which he wrote up to eight times a day and he immortalized her portrait in 1902. Genius and mysterious, Gustav Klimt, the love child of Vienna, said one day these words, that perfectly sum up his life: "If by actions and art, we cannot please everyone, we have to choose to please the few. Pleasing everyone is not a solution."

Vasily Tryndyk, the Klimt admirer

 The artist of the week, the Russian Vasily Tryndyk admits his admiration for the Masters of the Flemish School of painting, Marc Chagall but also Gustav Klimt. Member of the Artists Union of the USSR , he quickly gets famous in Moscow and goes back to anonymity when he moves to the Netherlands where he still lives. Tryndyk uses gloss oil to illuminate his work. His melancholic figures, unknown and faceless, remind the world of entertainment and the commedia dell’arte. The paintings of Vasily Tryndyk bring back to life deep feelings that used to be omitted with the bustle of the modern life.