Whoever wants to know something about me – as an artist which alone is significant – they should look attentively at my pictures and there seek to recognize what I am and what I want. – Gustav Klimt
The Kiss by Gustav Klimt is probably one of the most recognized works of art around the world. Installed in a cavernous dark room in Vienna’s Belvedere Castle the painting hangs alone on a vast wall, flanked by heavy burgundy drapes, like an altarpiece in its own cathedral. It’s become an iconic representation of love and lovers. It has inspired many reproductions, homages and adorned countless mugs, shower curtains, umbrellas, coasters and tea serving sets – a development sure to cause major concern to the artist were he ever to witness it.
Klimt painted The Kiss between 1907 and 1908 in his studio in Vienna. The painting represents the classic Vienna Secession style and is considered a signature Klimt with all the graphic attributes we’d expect. In it Klimt depicts his personal life – the woman is Emilie Flöge, Klimt’s sister in law and muse, who was also widely considered to have been his lover – but also makes a direct reference to an 1897 painting by Edvard Munch of the same title (left). Going back even further both paintings were inspired by Rodin’s sculpture. While Munch’s painting reflects his personal demons, showing the couple against a heavy dark background, their faces merged into a featureless blank outline, Klimt’s version is much more romantic yet no less passionate.
Formally inspired by the shimmering golden Byzantine mosaics Klimt studied while in Ravenna, Italy, the figures are draped in richly patterned gold-leafed robes and set against a shimmering halo of pale gold light. Despite the figures being centered on the canvas, everything is else hints at the beauty and the precariousness of this composition: the fleeting passion, the embrace, the carpet of delicate wild flowers upon which they are set.
As for the decorative components of the robes that are now considered “signature Klimt” these were most likely first created and brought to his attention by Emilie Flöge, (right) who together with her sister Helene founded Schwestern Flöge or Flöge Sisters, an haute couture boutique on Vienna’s fashionable Mariahilfe Strasse where they sold richly embellished tunics with some of the very designs Klimt featured in many of his other works.
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