The Corresponence of James McNeil Whistler

return to surnames beginning with 'K'

Gustav Klimt, 1862-1918

Nationality: Austrian
Date of Birth: 1862.07.14
Place of Birth: Baumgarten, near Vienna
Date of Death: 1918.02.06
Place of Death: Baungarten, near Vienna


Gustav Klimt was a painter and decorative artist. He was the eldest son of a Viennese engraver. His brother Ernst Klimt was also a painter. Gustav Klimt did not marry but is reputed to be the father of 14 children.


Klimt studied under the Austrian painters Ferdinand Laufberger and Julius Victor Berger. In 1888 he received the Austrian Goldenes Verdienstkreuz for his frescoes at the new Burgtheater, and in 1890 he was awarded 400 ducats by the Emperor Francis Joseph for his View of the Interior of the Old Burgtheater (1888; Historisches Museum, Vienna).

Klimt received many prestigious commissions, including the decoration of the ceiling of the Aula of Vienna University with Franz von Matsch. He undertook allegorical representations of Philosophy, Medicine and Jurisprudence (oil on canvas, 1899-1907; destroyed 1944). His fantastical designs, which showed the influence of late Symbolism and Art Nouveau, particularly of the work of Fernand Khnopff, Jan Toorop and Aubrey Beardsley, examples of which he could have seen at the early exhibitions of the Secession, brought him controversy and were never installed in their intended locations. Philosophy was shown at the 7th Secession exhibition in 1900 and Medicine at the 10th Secession exhibition in 1901. In 1903 all three were shown together at the 18th Secession exhibition.

In 1905 Klimt and a number of others resigned from the Secession, and became increasingly isolated from the Austrian avant-garde. His later works were dominated by portraiture and landscapes, the latter showing a similarity to the work of Egon Schiele. His portraits of the Viennese haute bourgeoisie, e.g. Margaret Stonborough-Wittgenstein (1905; Neue Pinakothek, Munich), recall JW's full-length portraits in which figures emerge from shadowy backgrounds and in which form is treated in a radically flattened way. Like JW, Klimt made use of decorative motifs from Japanese screens and porcelain, e.g. Baroness Bachofen-Echt (1914-16; Kunstmuseum, Basle), and showed a similar concern for colour harmony and patterning.

Klimt similarly shared with JW a concern for the way in which works of art were exhibited. The Society of Austrian Artists Secession, of which he had been part, had formed in 1897 with the aim of furthering the fine and decorative arts by means of 'select exhibitions' which sought to move away from the 'ordinary gigantic 'art-warehouses' so refractory to good taste and art', as Klimt put it in his letter to JW of 13 December 1897. Admiring JW's work, Klimt invited him to accept honorary membership in the Society of Austrian Artists Secession (#05505). In return, in 1898 JW invited Klimt to exhibit in London at the first exhibition of the International Society of Sculptors, Painters and Gravers at the Princes' Skating Club in Knightsbridge. Klimt was also made an honorary member of the ISSPG, a society which had elected JW its President.

Like JW, Klimt experimented with media. For example, in the Beethoven Frieze, painted for the 14th Secession exhibition in 1902, Klimt made use of silver and gold paint as well as fragments of jewellery and mother-of-pearl. He made no original prints, but produced designs for the publisher Martin Gerlach's album Allegorien (1882-5) and for the Secession's journal Ver Sacrum. He also made designs for jewellery and fabrics, some of which were carried out by the Wiener Werkstätte. He also showed an interest in architecture, as is demonstrated by two studies for the façade of the Secession building, dating from 1897.


Novotny, F., and Dobai, J., Gustav Klimt: Catalogue raisonné, London, 1968; MacDonald, Margaret F., 'Whistler, Rodin and the International', Gazette des Beaux-Arts, vol. 103, March 1984, pp. 115-23; Partsch, S., Klimt: Life and Work, London, 1989; Fliedel, G., Gustav Klimt, 1862-1918: The World in Female Form, Cologne, 1994; Dorment, Richard, and Margaret F. MacDonald, James McNeill Whistler, exhibition catalogue, Tate Gallery, London, 1984; Vergo, Peter, 'Gustav Klimt', The Grove Dictionary of Art Online, ed. L. Macy, (accessed 13 December 2002).