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Gustav Klimt was an Austrian Symbolist painter, best known for his paintings of women. He is considered an early sensual and erotic artist. His art was controversial in his own time. He preferred dominant women in his paintings.
He was deliberate and painstaking in his work and required lengthy sittings by his subjects.
His theme was the primal forces of sexuality, regeneration, love, and death. His sexuality was not explicit. He used swirling designs, spirals, and phallic shapes. These appealed to Symbolist and Art Nouveau influences which were popular in his day. He liked working with actual gold as a material and color, perhaps because his father’s profession was as a gold engraver.
He was educated in art at the Vienna University of Arts and Crafts in 1876. But it was changing family circumstances which had the biggest impact on his art style. Both his father and a brother died in 1892. He had to provide for both of their families. His art changed in response to this new challenge.
He rebelled against traditional art and founded the Vienna Secession to champion the new and unconventional, including a magazine to showcase members’ art.
Klimt was influenced by a variety of factors. For one, he took trips to Venice and Ravenna where he loved the Byzantine imagery he saw. He incorporated Byzantine designs into his work, especially into the textiles within his paintings.
Japanese art and its methods also became an influence. Then he pursued his interest in gold by including gold leaf in his paintings.
Klimt also painted landscapes. At first that might seem odd for an artist so consumed by portraying women on canvas. However, his landscapes show his interest in textile patterning which he also used in his paintings of women.
He painted many of these when he was on vacation in the country. The rural locals noted his intensity while painting his landscapes and nicknamed him Forest Demon.