Many people know Gustav Klimt as the artist who produced the famous 1907 painting “The Kiss.” The Kiss is the masterpiece of two figures that melt into each other with a hungry embrace. Many artists have been inspired by this artwork and created variations of it.
In his early artistic years, Gustav Klimt was inspired by the artist Han Markart; he was also influenced by the Vienna avant-garde society and Japanese Ukiyo-E artists. Klimt is known as a founding member of the Vienna artistic group called Secession.
Who Inspired Gustav Klimt?
Gustav Klimt is unique because several different people and events inspired him during his artistic career. No single person or event ever inspired him and his art; he indeed was an artist who paved the way for many in the art he created.
Inspired by the Artist Han Makart
Early in his career, Gustav Klimt was inspired by Han Makart’s elaborate paintings of history. Like Makart, Klimt had an interest in the human form.
Through his art, he could explore his interest in the human form using classical themes such as the trials and tribulation of Greek gods and other methodological figures.
Klimt lived in an uptight Austrian society, yet he was willing to explore things like the Burgtheater’s mural with his dancing nudes in the Theater in Taormina (1886-1888). This piece of artwork is the main ceiling panel of the north staircase of the Vienna Burgtheater. The mural impressed Emperor Franz Joseph I of Austria (1830 – 1915) so much that he awarded the young artist Klimt the Gold Cross of Merit’; this recognition led Klimt to receive other art commissions.
This mural is interesting as you can see the Greek influence and Klimt’s fascination with the human form, especially the female form. At the front is a naked woman with her arms raised above her head in what can be thought of as a provocative pose.
Inspired by Vienna’s Avant-Garde
After Klimt left school, he started to become inspired by the Viennese avant-garde movement. At the time, the sheer decadence and intellectual rebelliousness that was taking place in Vienna enthralled and inspired him.
The group of avant-garde writers in Vienna reacted against all things to do with moralistic 19th-century literature. A Group of writers explored dreams and wrote about sexuality.
Sigmund Freud was also in Vienna, and he had views of sexuality and psychoanalyst. Freud had some very radical thoughts for this day, so this would have also inspired both Klimt and the avant-garde group.
Klimt began to see that he could reject the traditional approaches and ways of creating art in favor of an approach that favored classicism, rationality, and naturalism. Klimt was not afraid to take risks with his painting and art.
In the paintings of the stairwell for Vienna’s Kunsthistorishches Museum, he created murals depicting the history of art. He decided to show the history of art using mainly female figures that represented human, not godly characteristics—this a break in artistic style for the day.
In his painting Ancient Greece II (Girl From Tanagra) (1890-1891), the female subject of the painting resembled one of his bohemian peers. He dared to use a living, breathing woman as his figure rather than a mythical being.
This painting was the first of his “femme fatales,” where the artist used female subjects that were strong and expressive. These “femme fatales” women were capable of both seduction and destruction.
Klimt was not afraid to experiment and break with a lot of the art traditions of his day.
Klimt and The Secession
In 1897 Klimt and a group of other adventurers and avant-garde artists broke with the Vienna Artists Association and formed a new radical group called Secession. The name Secession came from a Roman term that meant “revolt against ruling powers.”
Klimt was a very prominent figure in this group. He became the group’s guiding spirit and president. The Secession published a magazine called Ver Sacrum. In one of the first issues, Klimt drew a picture of a naked woman holding up a mirror to the audience to invite everyone into his new adventure or this new artistic beginning.
The goal of the Secession group was to encourage unconventional art by holding exhibitions of artists, including some of the best foreign artists. They published the magazine to showcase the work of the members.
The Secession was unique because it had no manifesto and did not encourage any particular artistic style. The group had members that were Naturalists, Realists, and Symbolists.
Klimt was dedicated to the Secession movement, but eventually, he and many of his other colleagues resigned. He left the Secessions in 1908; even though he ultimately left the Secession group, his legacy still lived on.
Klimt and Japanese Art
When speaking about Klimt and what influenced his art, we need to mention the influence of the Japanese artist or Ukiyo-E woodblock Japanese art on Klimt and his artwork. Klimt was so taken by the East Asian style of art that he wore a long flowing indigo gown resembling a kimono, with no underwear and sandals when he was painting.
He was influenced dramatically by all Japanese art, but the Ukiyo-E woodblock print artists were his primary influence. Many of these woodblock prints dealt with erotica, which would have appealed to Klimt’s fascination with sexuality and the human form.
In Klimt’s work, you can also see the kimono style clothing and eastern styled clothing. The term “Japonisme” came about from the 1873 World’s Fair in Vienna. The term Japonisme refers to the popularity and influence that Japanese art and design, mainly the Japanese Ukiyo-E woodblock prints, had on many Western European artists in the early 19th and 20th Centuries.
Gustav Klimt was a unique and vital artist because he was never afraid to break from tradition and create art that inspired him. He was an artist who was never afraid to break from the rules and norms of the day to create his unique art style.
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