100 years from his death – Francesco Carelli , University of Milan

Marking the transition from historicism to Jugendstil, Gustav Klimt’s works shaped the beginning  of modern art in Vienna. 100 years after his death, the Leopold Museum in Wien pays tribute to the figurehead of the period of “Vienna around 1900” with a comprehensive exhibition divided into eight thematic emphases and illustrating all the periods of the artist’s works  by means of some 35 paintings, 90 drawings, 30 photographs and approx. 150 archival documents.

Along with exhibits from the Leopold Museum and the Leopold Private Collection, the exhibition also features numerous works given to the museum by a Klimt descendant as a new permanent loan, as well as four paintings and six drawings from a private collection, which were also entrusted to the museum as permanent loans.


The presentation Gustav Klimt. Artist of the Century traces an arc from Klimt’s beginnings at the height of the Grunderzeit era dominated by historicism, via his artistic paradigm shift   and the evolution of his own, individual style from the mid-1890s, when he created his first    drafts for the Faculty Paintings for the ceremonial hall of Vienna University, which would cause a scandal. The overview continues with Gustav Klimt as a leading figure of the Vienna Secession, whose members broke with esthetical conventions and paved the way for Jugendstil, and goes on to shine the spotlight on his activities as a sought-after portraitist  of the wealthy Viennese bourgeoisie as well as on his highly erotic, symbolistically charged  female depictions.

Also on display is a selection of his landscapes created during his regular summer sojourns in the Salzkammergut region, which served to further Klimt’s renown.




The exhibition sees two monumental allegorical works by Klimt enter into a dialogue for  the first time: Death and Life (1910/11, reworked in 1915/16) has been part of the Leopold   Museum’s collection compiled by Rudolf Leopold for 40 years, while The Bride (1917/18) was   brought into the collection of the Klimt Foundation in 2013. Since the Faculty Paintings,

Gustav   Klimt had addressed the cycle of life and its individual phases. During the last years  of  his works, and shaped by personal experiences, Klimt started to rework the first version  of  Death and Life in 1915 and transferred depictions of individual stages of life as solitary figures to his works The Virgin (1913) and The Bride. The paintings, which are both shown in   the exhibition, were prepared by Klimt with numerous drawings. The sketchbook for his last  allegory has survived, and affords valuable insights into the process of the work’s composition  and creation.


The first presentation of drawings along with the extant sketchbook and the painting

The Bride from the collection of the Klimt Foundation allows visitors to delve

directly into the fantasies and visions of this exceptional artist. The painting further

affords scope for new interpretations and, through its Expressionist accents,

links Gustav Klimt as a pioneer of modernism in Austria with his successors Oskar

Kokoschka  and Egon Schiele.




Gustav Klimt’s commission to create Faculty Paintings for Vienna University provoked a dispute that  would  last several years. In 1894 the artist was asked by the ministry of education to conceive three ceiling paintings for the auditorium of the university, as well as,,ten spandrel paintings. Klimt presented the first of the three monumental works, Philosophy,in an unfinished version at the 7th Secession Exhibition in 1900. His rendering of Medicine was exhibited in 1901 at the 10th Secession Exhibition, while his last Faculty Painting,Jurisprudence, was shown at the 18th Secession Exhibition in 1903.

The works mostly received scathing criticism from the professors and art critics, as Klimt  dispensed with any glorification of the sciences and instead made man’s irrational and instinctual  nature the focus of his depictions. After some ten years of fierce attacks, the artist  resigned from the commission in 1905 and reimbursed the state his fee.



Gustav Klimt’s regular summer sojourns on the Attersee with Emilie Floge and her family set in around the turn of the century. Klimt’s need for privacy and distance was especially great  after the controversy caused by his Faculty Paintings. Far from the city and surrounded by  intimate friends, Klimt found both relaxation and inspiration.

Klimt’s landscapes make up around one quarter of his painterly works. They were

Predominantly created in nature, or at times from photographs and picture postcards

in his Vienna studio. The artist  wanted  to depict a natural environment independent of  man that reflects a tranquil atmosphere – his interest in a symbolic expression and in aspects of timelessness and transience were central to these works.

Emilie Floge is regarded to this day as the inspiring “muse” by the side of the world-renowned  artist – and their relationship has been the subject of much speculation. The independent  woman accompanied the most prominent artist in the Monarchy at the time as a steadfast   companion through personal and creative highs and lows. One of the most influential  fashion  designers in Vienna, she ran the salon Schwestern Flöge from 1904 together with her sisters Helene and Pauline. Inspired by new movements and tendencies, she pursued herown artistic path alongside Klimt. Both of them were eminent representatives and trendsettersespecially for the Wiener Werkstatte founded in 1903 and the workshop’s concept of the Gesamtkunstwerk, or universal work of art.




Gustav Klimt is considered the painter of women par excellence, and he devoted a large share of his works  to female depictions. His range of female types is multifaceted and includes the  erotic-fetishized woman, the demonized femme fatale, the allegorically-mythically charged  female creature of nature, and finally the idealized lady of society. This last type earned him a reputation as a painter of distinguished female portraits in fin-de-siecle Vienna.

Like  the paintings themselves, the drawings and studies accompanying these female portraits merely outline the individuality and personality of the sitters.

Among the approximately 4,000 graphic works left behind by Gustav Klimt are numerous highly erotic female depictions, which earned the artist the reputation of an “eroticist”. The majority of them were neither exhibited during his lifetime, nor were they intended to be sold. They primarily served as studies for paintings and are testament to his almost obsessive  exploration of the essence of “the feminine”.