The Kiss (original Der Kuss) was painted by Gustav Klimt, and is probably his most famous work. He began work on it in 1907 and it is the highpoint of his so-called ‘Golden Period’, when he painted a number of works in a similar style. It depicts a couple embracing, their bodies largely hidden by elaborate robes decorated in a style that bears little relation to any historical textile designs. As well as conventional oil paint, gold leaf has been used, one of the aspects of the work that gives it a strikingly modern appearance, while evoking memories of much earlier art. The painting is now in the Österreichische Galerie Belvedere museum, in Vienna, Austria.
In The Kiss, Klimt depicted a couple locked in an embrace. The rest of the painting dissolves into shimmering, extravagant flat patterning. This patterning has clear ties to Art Nouveau and to the Arts and Crafts movement and also evokes the conflict between two- and three-dimensionality intrinsic to the work of Degas and other modernists. Paintings such as The Kiss were visual manifestations of fin-de-siecle spirit because they capture a decadence conveyed by opulent and sensuous images. The use of gold leaf recalls medieval “gold-ground” paintings and illuminated manuscripts, and earlier mosaics, and the spiral patterns in the clothes recall Bronze Age art, and the decorative tendrils seen in Western art since before classical times. The man’s head ends very close to the top of the canvas, a departure from traditional Western canons that reflects the influence of Japanese prints, as does the very simplified composition.
The Kiss is a discreet expression of Klimt’s emphasis on eroticism and the liberation therein. The Kiss falls in line with Klimt’s exploration of fulfillment and the redeeming, transformative power of love and art.
Born in 1862, Gustav Klimt was the principal Austrian Art Nouveau painter and one of the founders of the Vienna Sezession, a group of artists and architects who formed their own exhibition society and denounced the classical academic training of the time.
Trained at the Kunstgewerbeschule in Vienna, he was essentially a decorator and, from 1883 to 1892, he shared a studio for decorative painting with his brother, completing projects which included work in the Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna, in 1891.
From around 1898, after a barren period of about six years, Klimt became influenced by a variety of themes, including Japanese art, symbolism and the work of contemporary English painters like Burne-Jones and Alma-Tadema. The result was the creation of a series of paintings depicting highly decorative and erotic female figures, usually with beautifully embellished backgrounds and clothing.
Such was his success that Klimt became a significant influence on the Art Nouveau movement.
He died in 1918 in Vienna, Austria.