Gustav Klimt was born 150 years ago. He was one of the most innovative and controversial artists of the early twentieth century. The son of an engraver, he studied at the State School of Applied Arts in Vienna. In the 1880s and 1890s he produced murals for public buildings — including Vienna’s Burgtheater and new Kunsthistorisches Museum (Art History Museum) — in the prevailing classical-realist style. Klimt’s style grew increasingly experimental, however, and his murals for Vienna University, commissioned by the State in 1894, were roundly attacked by critics for their fantastical imagery and their bold, decorative style. Partly in response to this reaction, in 1897 Klimt helped form the Secession, a group of artists dedicated to challenging the conservative Academy of Fine Arts.
Influenced by European avant-garde movements represented in the annual Secession exhibitions, Klimt’s mature style combined richly decorative surface patterning with complex symbolism and allegory, often with highly erotic content. After 1900 he concentrated on portraits and landscapes, although he also produced two of his greatest murals during this period — The Beethoven Frieze, exhibited at the Secession in 1902, and decorations for the Palais Stoclet in Brussels (1904-1911).
Klimt spent most of his summers on the Attersee, near Salzburg, where he drew inspiration for many of his landscapes, and where he painted some of his best-known works, including The Kiss of 1907-8. He died in 1918.