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Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Gustave Klimt

We all have favorite artists. Most people who "know" art to any degree have several, perhaps so many they'd be hard pressed to choose only one as a favorite. It's kind of a futile mental exercise anyway because we like different artists for different reasons. Often our favorites are vastly different too.  It's somewhat frustrating sometimes, this picking of favorite artists, because often these favorites may be so obscure that when we mention their names we're met by a blank stare and either a spoken or unspoken, "who?" It's the same feeling as when your favorite movie isn't nominated for an Academy Award or your favorite song doesn't even come close to making number one on the Top-40 listing. That's the case with one of my all-time favorite artists, Gustave Klimt.

Klimt was born in Austria in 1862, the son of a goldsmith. The influence of his father's trade is evident in his work. He, himself, even referred to his "golden style" of painting, and while he rarely use the precious metal itself on his canvases, in many of his best work there is a metallic, golden elegance and detail that gives it the delicate sparkle of fine jewelry. The other element ever-present in Klimt's work is a romantic, barely cloaked eroticism in his portraits and figures. His work is stylish and stylized. It is awash with Art Nouveau motifs that further enhance the delicate elegance of its refined, sensuality.  Painting almost exclusively female figures, with an occasional male presence to heighten the romantic element, Klimt's paintings were the epitome of high fashion in the first decade of the twentieth century.

The Kiss, 1907-08, Gustave Klimt
 One of his best known works, and my personal favorite, is his 1908 The Kiss. The work is often said to depict Klimt and his mistress as they are cloaked in golden robes, his with rectilinear designs imbedded into it's glowing fabric, hers with oval shapes decorating its surface. They kneel on the edge of a jade precipice sparkling with lavender petals against a nocturnal meteor shower of gold flecks in a sepia sky. In his later work, the emphasis on sexuality blossoms into one of regeneration, love, and finally, death. Klimt is an artist often forgotten in that he had no precursors and no predecessors. The Art Nouveau style which he fostered quickly becoming dated and decadent-looking after the World War I. But for sheer, sensual loveliness, his paintings have no peer.

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