Out of all of our featured artists, Gustav Klimt is probably the most undefinable in terms of where he fits into Art History. He is classified as part of multiple art movements, including: Art Nouveau, Symbolism, Vienna Secession, Modern art, Neoclassicism, Realism, Surrealism, Romanticism.
The movement he is most aligned with is the Vienna Secession, in which he was a leading figure. This movement is closely related to Art Nouveau and was created by artists who resigned from the Association of Austrian Artists in protest against its support for more traditional artistic styles.
Art Nouveau (lit. New Art) is an international art movement that started gaining popularity a little bit after the Vienna Secession. It is characterized by natural themes like florals, and organic, flowing shapes. Art Nouveau’s reach included not just Fine Art but Decorative Art and Applied Arts, as well as furniture and architecture.
Love, intimacy, and sexuality are common themes in Klimt's work. His most popular work, The Kiss, was painted at some point in 1907 and 1908, during the height of his "Golden Period". Drawing from a wide variety of influences, this painting defies any label. The couple embracing each other are adorned in elaborate robes decorated in a style influenced by the organic forms of Art Nouveau. There is a conflict between two and three dimensionality, intrinsic to the work of Degas and other modernists. This along with the simplified, off centered composition (The man's head ends very close to the top of the canvas, a departure from traditional Western ‘rules’) shows the influence of Japanese prints.
The use of gold leaf recalls medieval gold-ground paintings, illuminated manuscripts, and earlier mosaics. Klimt was very inspired by the mosaics he saw in Northern Italy. The spiral patterns in the clothes recall Bronze Age art and the decorative tendrils seen in ancient Western art since before classical times.
Gustav Klimt passed away at the age of 55 from complications due to the Spanish Flu outbreak of 1918. A haunting fact to share in this day and age of the current global pandemic. He left behind many unfinished works. we can only wonder where he would have taken his wholly unique vision had he lived longer.