Gustav Klimt The Kiss – 20th Century Masterpiece

Whenever someone mentions Gustav Klimt, his erotic masterpiece “The Kiss” is always the first thing that comes to people’s minds.

“The Kiss” is the most well-known Austrian painting and the centerpiece of the Upper Belvedere’s permanent collection. It depicts a couple cuddling in a flower-filled meadow on the edge of a cliff, dressed in elaborate robes. The artwork was created in 1907–1908, at the height of Klimt’s “Golden Period,” when the artist invented a brand-new method for fusing gold leaf with bronze paint and oil. 

This fantastic and intriguing painting is one of the most famous art pieces in the world today. That’s why a lot of people are still fascinated by the history of this piece of art. So, let’s explore the history and discover hidden details about Klimt’s masterpiece – “The Kiss.”


About The Author – Gustav Klimt

Gustav Klimt, an Austrian artist, was born in Vienna in 1862. His mother, who had musical skills, never achieved her aim, and his father was a gold engraver. Their parents were both immigrants from Bohemia. The family had a hard time surviving, partly caused by the economic crisis in Austria. 

Klimt demonstrated his creative skill at a very young age. He left the school when he was a young adolescent. After that, he enrolled at Vienna’s School of Arts and Crafts. While a student, Klimt immediately embraced traditional teaching and concentrated his efforts on painting buildings. Klimt’s ability was developing while he was still in school, and he received numerous orders.

With his brother, Ernst, and friend Franz Masch, Klimt founded an independent studio focused on mural painting. This trio disregarded their creative inclinations in order to please Vienna’s upper class. Like his paintings at the Vienna Burgtheater, a large portion of Klimt’s early work with this trio was done in the 19th-century academic style. In 1888, the three painters were awarded the Golden Order of Merit.

Klimt’s father and sibling died in 1892. After that, Klimt started to adopt a more unique and creative approach. This new approach largely drew from symbolism and a wide range of sources unrelated to his formal education. Around 1897, Klimt founded the Vienna Secession and started to witness the emergence of his more developed style.

This school of artists abandoned the academic style in favor of a more ornamental and eclectic style resembling Art Nouveau. This group’s main goal was to aid young, unconventional artists.

The University of Vienna authorized Klimt to produce murals. Those murals had to be designed for the ceiling. All of it happened in the early 20th century. The Philosophy Mural sparked a stir after being exhibited in the Secession exhibition. This was because it featured gloomy figurative art and multiple nude human figures. Even though most of Klimt’s work was receiving poor reviews at the time, he was also experiencing unprecedented success. Klimt created paintings with elaborate gold leaf details and two-dimensional perspectives during his Golden Phase in the early 20th century. The Kiss, a painting by Klimt, was created at this time. 

Records show that Klimt was a thickset, melancholy man who never wed and maintained an outwardly bohemian lifestyle. He was frequently seen wearing his painter’s smock. If Klimt tended to let his paintings speak for him, The Kiss’ message was very evocative and hinted at the inner workings of a mysterious mind through its intricate surfaces. 

There is a reason why Klimt’s art is sometimes associated with his Viennese neighbor and close contemporary, Sigmund Freud. After he passed away, several unfinished works of a shockingly sexual character were discovered in Klimt’s studio. 

In terms of his personal life, Klimt had a lot of affairs throughout his life and is believed to have about 14 kids. Gustav Klimt died on February 6, 1918, following a stroke, in the Vienna General Hospital. Three days later, he was buried at the Hietzing Cemetery. Egon Schiele attempted to take over Gustav Klimt’s final studio at the Feldmühlgasse and painted the artist three times as he lay on his deathbed, but that year, Schiele passed away from the Spanish Flu.

Moriz Nähr took photographs of Klimt’s studio apartment after his passing, preserving it for future generations. These photographs included the reception area, garden shed, and studio. The incomplete paintings “The Bride” and “Lady with Fan” are still visible on the easel.

Brief Historical Overview Of the Era

In order to understand the background of the painting, it’s important to investigate the historical setting in which Klimt created this contentious yet stunning work. Gustav Klimt was a part of the Secessionist movement and took an avant-garde approach to his painting. Additionally, Klimt was a forerunner of the Symbolist movement in European painting. Concerning mystical themes and a subjective approach to art, the symbolism was comparable to the Art Nouveau and Arts & Crafts movements.

After leaving the academic world, Klimt produced three paintings for the University of Vienna. The Kiss painter faced blowback and criticism for the sensual implications of his work even at this early point of his career. Klimt’s murals from the early 20th century, including the Beethoven Frieze, were distinguished by illogical yet striking ornamental patterns made of linear drawing, color, and gold leaf.

The Vienna Secessionists refused to eliminate sexual content from their artwork and instead depicted “what they shouldn’t have painted.” They looked at the impact of a tender touch, a hug, a kiss, a violent event, or an amorous scenario. Even though Klimt departed the movement over differences of opinion, he and Egon Schiele continued to serve as its primary representatives. 

After leaving the Secession, Klimt organized the Kunstschau show, where he first publicly displayed The Kiss. The event garnered harsh criticism and had a disastrous financial outcome. Despite this, the exhibition was the catalyst for The Kiss’ phenomenal success. Even before the show had closed, the Vienna government purchased the piece because it was believed to be in the country’s best interests.

Klimt painted the Kiss during his Golden Period. He also painted several fashionable Viennese women around this period, notably Adele Bloch-Bauer I. Klimt two-dimensionally rendered the human figures in these paintings, and they were encircled by flat, colorfully designed, ornate adornment.

Aspiring young painters like Egon Schiele and Oskar Kokoschka were among the fans Klimt attracted during his brilliant career. These artists made an effort to convey the unadulterated nature of human experiences and emotions. Due to his unabashed investigation of the pure sensuality and emotionality of the human body, Klimt also faced a number of detractors within the Austrian art establishment.

What Inspired Klimt To Create The Kiss

In several of Klimt’s works, especially the Stoclet Frieze and Beethoven Frieze, which served as forerunners to The Kiss, the motif of two embracing figures was present. The role of women in his creations has been the subject of research. Some speculate that the woman might be Klimt’s close friend and partner, Emilie Floge. Others believe she is more like Red Hilda, a model who appeared in Klimt’s Goldfish, Danae, and Woman with a Feather Boa

Klimt created “The Kiss” after visiting Ravenna in Italy and viewing the Byzantine mosaics done by San Vitale. The Byzantine influence may be seen in several of Klimt’s works. For Klimt, the mosaics’ two-dimensionality only served to emphasize the bright brilliance of the gold.

By adopting inorganic and static shapes, Klimt is thought to have reflected the Byzantine influence by moving towards more stability. The Kiss masterpiece represents the peak of Klimt’s Golden Era. This piece completes an allegory illustrating the fusion of sensual and spiritual love and connection.

Let’s Explore “The Kiss” From a Closer Angle

The impressive size of the masterpiece is 72in × 72in (180cm x 180cm). It echoes off the wall as the life-size, gold-wrapped figures embrace. In this composition, the embracing pair occupies the front, with a flat, dark golden background enclosing them on each side. The woman’s bare feet are visible at the bottom border of a beautiful field. 

The woman is dressed in a flowing yellow garment with organic flower motifs and circular patterns. The male is dressed in an ivy crown, and the floral pattern extends into her hair. The man’s shoulders are covered by a robe of a similar color, patterned with delicate swirls and geometric shapes.

The male is bending down, kissing the woman’s cheek while cradling her face in his hands. His face is hidden from view. With one arm slung over his neck and her face raised into the kiss, the woman has her eyes softly closed.

The identities of males and females in the painting are still the subject of debate and research. According to some historians, the kiss between Daphne and Apollo in the Greek tale Metamorphoses may have been captured in this piece. Despite the fact that Daphne changed into a laurel tree to flee Apollo’s love, he still embraces her. Maybe this narrative is referenced by the female figure’s profusion of flowers. The woman’s bare feet are on the ground, and it looks like fine golden threads are keeping her there.

Other historians have proposed that The Kiss is an allegory for the scene in the Eurydice and Orpheus story where Orpheus turns to kiss his beloved Eurydice just before he leaves her for good. Many points on the woman’s face have somewhat transparent aspects that support this theory.

This picture clearly displays a contradiction between the masculine and feminine. The male figure standing above the woman in the composition perfectly conveys the dominant and, at times, overwhelming male force. This energy is echoed by the angular and quite hefty geometric blocks on the man’s robe. The female figure’s submission and her organic, flowing cloak soften the picture and draw attention to the contradiction.

The woman’s robe’s wavy and softly spinning patterns are evocative of Klimt’s Tree of Life. Despite the robes covering the individuals’ nude bodies, this artwork exudes a feeling of sexuality and sensuality.

Klimt’s Vienna Ceiling mural series had generated a stir in the art world just before he painted The Kiss. These earlier pieces, seen as twisted and obscene, shed a negative light on Klimt and his anti-populist and anti-authoritarian beliefs. The Kiss was well received despite its poor reputation. Even before it was completed, the picture was presented in a public exhibition before being acquired by the Austrian government.

Intriguing Details Of “The Kiss” 

Gustav Klimt is known for using delicate lines to create human forms and carefully using detail everywhere around them. The delicate face of the female figure is where we can most clearly observe Klimt’s precise and deft draftsmanship. Her gentle, feminine facial characteristics include a precisely carved nose, elaborate eyelashes, and delicately curved hands.

Despite having obvious skill, Klimt, like many other painters, had doubts about his creative prowess. He once remarked that while he thinks he can paint and sketch and that others might be able to do the same, he cannot be confident that this is true. Today, when we consider The Kiss, we disagree entirely with Klimt. Unquestionably, one of the most well-known and acclaimed paintings is this one.

This picture has what seems like an infinite number of ornamental motifs. The canvas is covered with several ornamental textures and patterns on every square inch. Klimt’s highly ornamental aesthetic stands for his defiance of the constraints of the classical canon. There are several frequently contradictory patterns throughout The Kiss.

A geometric pattern of rectangles is embroidered on the man’s robe, mixed with the gentle swirls prevalent in many of Klimt’s works. In reality, Klimt uses many of the elements he used in The Kiss across his body of work. Klimt’s use of rectangular blocks, radiating rings, concentric squares, and whirling spirals demonstrate his extraordinary attention to detail.

The Kiss painter’s Golden Period was known for its copious use of gold, but all of his works also featured a wide variety of dazzling hues. These vivid hues may be seen throughout The Kiss in the stylized flowers that make up the composition.

The woman has lilac and dark purple flowers in her hair, which are entirely distinct from the field of wildflowers at her feet in terms of both color and shape. The woman’s robe is adorned with vibrant orange, pink, and purple patches of flowers. The colors give the composition more life and energy and create a stunning contrast with the many gold tones that span the bulk of the canvas.

The Kiss close up

Interesting Facts You May Not Know About “The Kiss”

The history and meaning of this well-known picture have been thoroughly discussed above. However, there are a few little-known details about the artwork and the artist that we find to be quite intriguing and that adds to the artist’s deep background and distinctive style.

Cost Of “The Kiss”

The Austrian government paid a record-breakingly high and astonishing amount for the picture “The Kiss.” The Austrian government purchased the Kiss from Klimt before it was completed, and they paid 25,000 crowns for it. This amount is equivalent to almost $240,000 today. This price might not appear outstanding in light of the current state-of-the-art market. But up until this auction, the most expensive picture had cost 500 crowns. 

Harmony Of Different Painting Styles

We’ve previously spoken about how A prime illustration of Klimt’s distinctive Art Nouveau aesthetic is the painting Kiss. This artwork was inspired by a number of other schools of art. During this period, Klimt made considerable use of gold leaf, inspired by the mosaics created by the Byzantines.

 Byzantine art also impacted Klimt’s use of two-dimensional shapes that highlight gold. This piece’s composition is considered to have been influenced by Japanese prints. Many of the first works by Impressionists also show this influence. The couple’s robes’ clashing designs exhibit an Arts and Crafts influence.

Conservative Nature Of “The Kiss”

Male figures were extremely infrequently included in Klimt’s works since he preferred to emphasize the seductiveness of the feminine form. Despite having a covered face, the presence of a man is unique in this picture. The way the characters are dressed in this picture differs from Klimt’s earlier creations in another aspect. 

Given that many of Klimt’s early paintings featured nudists, the presence of two dressed people in this work makes it pretty traditional. Perhaps the recent controversy about the paintings on the Vienna Ceiling was the cause of this humility.

Commemorative Coin Of “The Kiss”

The Austrian Mint released a commemorative 100 Euro gold coin in 2003. Gustav Klimt’s bust is depicted on one side of the coin, while The Kiss is depicted in a miniature etching. It is appropriate to honor Klimt’s Golden Period because both he and The Kiss are essential and well-known figures in Austrian history.

Golden Phase Of Klimt’s Artwork

Pallas Athene

The painting Pallas Athene is frequently recognized as Klimt’s first creation during his Golden Period. This 1898 oil painting of the Greek goddess Athena shows her in armor and a rebellious stance. The dramatic use of gold and the presence of patterns in this artwork, which retains the classical influence seen in his earlier works, are signs of Klimt’s future work.

Classical mythology is used in Pallas Athene, which contrasts sharply with Klimt’s more feminine representations of women. In this case, the lady is a strong, courageous goddess who embodies traits typically associated with men. Not just in Athens but throughout Greek antiquity, gender ambiguity was quite prevalent.

The 1898 version of Pallas Athene continues to incorporate mythology, as evidenced in characters like Danae, but in a fresh way emphasizing female strength. In contrast to Judith, Danae, and The Kiss, who positively highlighted and even glorified sexuality, it is likewise veiled here.

Athene stands in front of us with a stubborn attitude and one hand gripping the spear shaft, her weapon. She gives off the sensation of being examined as she looks at the observer with a steady and probing glance. Her pale, wide-eyed appearance conveys a calm and collected demeanor. Her small, tightly drawn lips and high head of hair emphasize her strong, square jawline. These characteristics, along with the helmet that covers the rest of her head and face, give her a very manly image that is not diminished by the lank hair trailing beneath.

Pallas Athene

Judith I

Judith I is another early illustration from this time. In this picture, like many of his later works, a woman’s portrait — in this case, Judith, a biblical character framed for killing an invader named Holofernes   is framed by ornamental patterns and set on a backdrop of gold. Klimt also used sensual undertones to represent female figures, a technique that would later become fundamental to his work at this time. 

When the picture was presented in 1901, it caused great controversy since onlookers thought the woman in the painting was Salome from the Bible.

The artist was required to paint the piece using an impressionist method, using metallic elements and various textures. Along with several art nouveau components, the picture has a faint realist undertone. During the performance’s presentation, the vivid colors and, more crucially, the major significance that permeates the whole piece, drew a wide range of criticism from the audience.

In Judith, a lady is seen gazing right back at the spectator while the viewer wonders what the meaning of the term means to her. The woman’s right eye and a flash of white light can be seen between the folds of her eyes as she glances toward the other person.


Beethoven Frieze

With the Beethoven Frieze in 1902, Klimt deepened his Golden Phase. This wall cycle measuring 112 feet long, was produced for the 14th Vienna Secessionist exhibition. It is a visual version of Ludwig van Beethoven’s 9th Symphony as a tribute to the German pianist and composer. Additionally, it has lavish planes, ethereal figures and themes, and ornate details that have come to define Klimt’s golden paintings.

The frieze depicts the human longing for pleasure in a painful and turbulent world where one must battle both internal and external evil forces. The audience is taken on an explorational journey in a visually striking and linear way. The flying female Genii starts off innocently, seeking the planet, but soon Typhoeus, the dark, menacing storm-wind monster, pursues.

A gorilla plays the role of Typhoeus, a huge personification of typhoid that ravaged nineteenth-century European towns like Vienna, in the first part of this horrific vision. The three Gorgons would return in Klimt’s controversial painting Jurisprudence as beautiful, seductive sirens with gold running through their hair.

The Beethoven Frieze

Bottom Line

The Kiss is a really important work for a number of reasons. This painting is not just one of Klimt’s most admired works but also a well-known representation of the Art Nouveau style. It is understandable why The Kiss is one of the most cherished works of art.

In addition to being the pinnacle of Klimt’s Golden Period, this work beautifully combines several of the artist’s most recognizable aesthetic traits. This picture is clearly by Klimt because of the delicate lines, vibrant colors, and elaborate contrasting patterns he used.