The Kiss is one of Gustav Klimt's most iconic works. Representative of many emotions and themes, Klimt broke the mould with this work by portraying the woman as someone who is submissive in her erotic love, yet still essentially feminine. The Kiss stands at the peak of Klimt's Golden Phase, melding together his passion for the colour and all that it represents. Spiritual, elegant and conveying the deepest sense of love, Gustav Klimt's masterpiece is a fascinating work of art full of influence and allegory.
A Love for Women
Long before The Kiss was made, Klimt had shown a fascination for the fairer sex. His portraits of women began blending sensuality with the coolness of Oriental motifs, particularly inspired by the Japanese ‘pillar prints’ he collected. Klimt liked to parallel the glamorous clothing of his models to their realistically portrayed faces. He used this method to frame and embellish his model's beauty, conveying who each of them were by the way he portrayed them sitting and by what they were wearing. His ideas were still often controversial but this period was ultimatley marked by positive critical reaction and subsequent financial success. This feedback fed into his ‘Golden Phase’, which reached its peak in 1907.
The Golden Phase
In 1902 the fourteenth Secessionist exhibition was held, this time featuring a special theme: a celebration of the works of Ludwig van Beethoven. The exhibition was decadent, a seemingly appropriate choice for such a leviathan figure in the arts world. Klimt, for his part, created a seven part frieze, consisting of what are now considered key works (or one collected work) of his Golden Phase to be displayed at the exhibition. His pieces consisted of allegory and love, blending together the elegance of romance with the viscera of erotic love. Klimt painted woman's bodies with elegant lines and their features in detail, leading to a style that became more pronounced over time, as we can see in his other Golden Phase works, couch as: Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer; and Fulfilment (left).
The Kiss, itself, was made with gold and silver leaf which embellished the vivid colours within the work, whilst also framing the more stark and textured depictions of the model's faces, in the same way that he had done with other works before. Though, while in some ways similar to his other works, The Kiss introduced new elements to his signature style. The submissive female model conveys a more essential truth of erotic love in relationships, one which Klimt is resistant to mask. The emotions of the couple are expressed through the lines of their bodies, composed carefully, from the position of their hands to their individual facial expressions. Klimt wanted to represent the mystical union of spiritual and erotic love, and the connection of life and the universe. Feminine energy is displayed through flowing lines on the woman’s clothing in swirling, colourful floral motifs, while masculine energy on the man’s clothing is represented by black and silver straight lines and rectangles.
Allegory and Influence
Besides The Kiss, Klimt made many other allegorical works. Hope II (left) shows a pregnant woman in an embellished dress, standing with her head bent, a group of worshipping women kneeling at her feet - resembling a religious icon. Klimt's allegorical paintings show a fascination with life and death, partly a result of his periods of depression and partly generated by the turbulent atmosphere in Europe leading up to the First World War.
Klimt travelled little, though it's thought that his excursions to Venice and Ravenna may have inspired his use of gold and mosiac style design. Clear to many admirers of his work, Klimt was also influenced by his passion for women. He drew on his own life experiences and while thought to be sexually prolific, he was also discreet in his affairs and avoided damaging his repuatation through scandal.
Perhaps it is this detachment from himself that marks Klimt out as unqiue figure in art. He would often work at home in sandals and a simple robe, abandoning any narcissistic thoughts for the greater good of his art. He claimed to have never painted a self-portrait, as he was instead fascinated by the people around him - particularly, he clarified, women. For anyone trying to understand him, he encouraged them to look at his pictures, rather than directly at him.
Artworks featured in this article (in order of appearance):
The Kiss, 1907
Oil and gold on canvas, 180 x 180 cm (71 x 71 in)
The Stoclet Frieze: Fulfilment (The Embrace), 1905−09
Mixed media on paper, 194.5 x 120.3 cm (76¾ x 42¼ in)
Hope II, 1907−08
Oil, gold and platinum on canvas, 110.5 x 110.5 cm (43½ x 43½ in)
For more Gustav Klimt, have a look at our title 'Gustav Klimt: Masterpieces of Art' (ISBN: 9781783611393). Available on Amazon here.
A Klimt artwork previously thought to be lost has been displayed recently at The National gallery. Read more here.
In a recent art project, Klimt and other artist's works were recreated using pornographic images. Read the article here.
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