The Kiss | Gustav Klimt
Analysis and history of famous painting
Art Pieces  /  The Kiss

The golden work of Gustav Klimt

The Kiss painting

One of Gustav Klimt's more famous works, created during what is known as his “Golden Period,” The Kiss is considered to be a masterpiece by many art historians..

The Kiss

He began work on The Kiss in 1907 and completed the piece in 1908, while he was living with his mother. Just before painting the work, Klimt was in a sort of artistic crisis, and felt that he was running dry creatively or perhaps getting too old.

It was considered to be a very modern piece at the time, since the artist used a technique that combined oil with layers of gold leaf. Klimt created this work soon after his Vienna Ceiling pieces, which were much less popular, caused much controversy, and was even considered to be pornographic by some. By contrast, the more subtle eroticism of The Kiss found favor with critics, perhaps in part because it was a departure from the usual nudity that was often found in Klimt's earlier paintings. Also unusual for Klimt at the time was the inclusion of a male character in his painting, as previously Klimt tended to paint mostly nude female figures. The work was also one of his most financially successful. When the piece sold, it broke a price record; it sold for a price 50 times higher than the most expensive work sold in Austria before it (25,000 crowns), and was purchased before it was even finished.

An attribute of this painting, and of several others in his Golden Period, that makes it rather striking is its “gilded” style. It has an erotic feel to it, and depicts a couple in a deep embrace, reminiscent of Francesco Hayez's work of the same name. The couple kneels on a bed of flowers of many different colors, and the woman seems to be somewhat hesitant, turning her face slightly away as the man holds her head in his hands, her eyes closed. Still, one of her arms snaked around his neck, indicating that her hesitance may just be for show, and the eager man, who appears to have a garland on his head, presses his mouth to her cheek, close to her lips. A chain of gold—or perhaps golden flowers—hands from the woman's ankles. It is possible that the painting is also a self-portrait, and that the male figure in the painting may be a depiction of Klimt himself.

The elements of this piece were likely inspired by Byzantine mosaics, as Klimt had traveled to Italy, and the art there seemed to have made an impression on him. This painting was the beginning of the general trend that runs through his Golden Period, where he was inspired to use gold and silver in his works.

The work resides today at the Österreichische Galerie Belvedere museum and is known as one of the best works to have been created in the early modern period, representing the Art Nouveau of Vienna. It is generally accepted to be one of Klimt's best paintings and is certainly his most popular.

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