Klimt, to love him, or leave him alone

Don’t get me wrong, Gustav Klimt was inherently remarkable at all of his accomplishments and I am fond of his work as well as those he influenced (even if they were on the brink of lunacy, Egon Schiele). However, to be quite honest, I’d never heard of him until approximately seventeen months ago – his impact on art history itself was miniscule in comparison with more notable greats. But suddenly he was all I read about and pieces of his art were unexpectedly in the strangest places. In celebration of his 150th birthday (this past Saturday, to be exact), museums the world over are head-over-feet presenting his works to the public. Who is this man and why can’t I get away from him?

Not the first, and certainly not the last, truly erotic painter, I often find myself entranced by his pieces. The bright, glittery gold and patterns that would normally do in my neutral and solid coloured brain are unforgettable. Nevertheless, I find it difficult to separate the artist in the smock/robe/dress/thing from the philanderer (he had fourteen children, two also named Gustav, by different women!) who seems to have been in love with his muse. That he could be so lucky for her to love him back! Did she?

Gustav Klimt, The Kiss, 1907-1908.
Oil, silver, and gold on canvas, 180 x 180 cm.
Österreichische Galerie Belvedere, Vienna.
Gustav Klimt, Portrait of Emilie Flöge, 1902.
Oil on canvas, 181 x 84 cm.
Historisches Museum, Vienna.

What woman wouldn’t love a man that painted beautiful, timeless portraits of her? That referred to her as his treasure and life? The fact of the matter is that unless science finds some way to bring people back from the dead, not that I think Emilie Flöge and Gustav Klimt would be first on the list, her secret is dead and buried. I hope I have enough wherewithal to destroy all of my love letters before I die – it seems she’s certainly more interesting to talk about because of it, rather than women whose names I can’t pull from the recesses of my brain that wrote for pages and days of their undying love for their own philanderers. Thank you for being a role model for young women everywhere, Emilie; I hope you were happy.

If celebrating birthdays of long-dead people is something you’re in to, go to the Neue Galerie before 27 August to see Gustav Klimt: 150th Anniversary, they are pulling out all of the stops – cakes AND cufflinks! But if you’re more like me and find celebrating the birth of a dead person morbid and disconcerting, enjoy his work in the privacy of your own home with these print and ebook collections: Klimt and Gustav Klimt. (I won’t judge you too harshly if you toast to him, I promise.)

-Le Lorrain Andrews

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