Gustav Klimt – Erotic Symbolist

Day 68 of Colourisation Project – July 14

Born this day, July 14 in 1862, Austrian painter, Gustav Klimt was one of the most controversial artists of the early twentieth century. He was a renowned promoter of Art Nouveau, or as it was known in Austria, the Secession.

Gustav Klimt was an artist ahead of his time. His work was highly decorative and his graphic depictions and representations of the female form are noted for their frank eroticism. Not one for subtlety, he pushed the boundaries of what was acceptable at the time. He utilized mythology and allegory to thinly disguise his overtly erotic content. His drawings often show women as sexual objects and his models, many of whom were prostitutes, were routinely asked to pose in highly erotic and sexual positions.

In 1897 in response to negative criticism of his work, Klimt helped to establish the Viennese Secession movement, a group of artists dedicated to challenging the conservative Academy of Fine Arts in Vienna.

Although his work was not widely accepted during his time, his paintings are today ranked amongst some of the most important and influential pieces to come out of Austria. Klimt was also a friend and mentor to Egon Schiele, another leading Austrian painter.

Gustav Klimt

Photographer Josef Anton Trčka – Gustav Klimt 1914 Coloured by Loredana Crupi

After suffering a stroke in 1918, Gustav Klimt succumbed to pneumonia. Although he never married, he is said to have fathered fourteen children. 

Remembered as one of the greatest decorative painters of the twentieth century, Klimt’s work was far more accepted in death than during his career. His paintings have brought some of the highest prices recorded for individual works of art. In November 2003, Landhaus am Attersee sold for $29,128,000. In 2006 Apple Tree I sold for $33 million and Birch Forest sold for $40.3 million. The 1907 portrait Adele Bloch-Bauer I fetched $135 million, the highest reported price ever paid for a piece of art sold at a public auction.


“I have never painted a self-portrait. I am less interested in myself as a subject for a painting than I am in other people, above all women…There is nothing special about me. I am a painter who paints day after day from morning to night… Whoever wants to know something about me – as an artist which alone is significant – ought to look attentively at my pictures and there seek to recognise what I am and what I want.”  Gustav Klimt

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