5 Facts About Gustav Klimt's The Kiss That Will Make You Love It Even More
The Kiss (Lovers) is the highpoint of Austrian Symbolist painter Gustav Klimt’s “Golden Period”, which was marked by positive critical reaction and financial success.
A perfect square, the large canvas (180x180 cm) depicts a couple embracing, their bodies entwined in elaborate robes decorated in a style influenced by the contemporary Art Nouveau style. The work is composed of oil paint with applied layers of gold leaf, an aspect that gives it its strikingly modern, yet evocative appearance. However, some consider the use of gold leaf to celebrate the earthly pleasures and sensuality of sexuality to be profane. Any which way, mingling of the gold leaf into his oil paints would subsequently become Klimt's signature style.
Klimt’s career was on the downswing when he painted The Kiss. Before creating this piece, Klimt had received scathing scorn for his three-part University of Vienna ceiling paintings. Because of the nudity in these works, his interpretation of philosophy, medicine and jurisprudence were derided as “pornography” and “perverted excess,” wounding his reputation. Klimt created his most famous work in a time of creative panic. He confessed in a letter, “either I am too old, or too nervous, or too stupid—there must be something wrong.” But before long, he created the painting that would be his most popular.
The Kiss was bought before it was finished. The Belvedere Museum (a.k.a. The Österreichische Galerie Belvedere) purchased the unfinished artwork from the gallery where it was first put on display. To acquire this transcendent piece of art, the Belvedere paid 25,000 crowns (or about $240,000 today). Prior to this mammoth sale, the highest price paid for a painting in Austria was a measly 500 crowns!
Austria considers The Kiss a national treasure (In 2003, Austria released a commemorative 100 Euro coin with The Kiss on one side, and a portrait of Klimt on the other) and the Viennese museum that has long been its home would never dream of selling it. However, if such a transaction were to happen, it is predicted The Kiss would break all sales records again. After all, Klimt’s equally famous Adele Bloch-Bauer I sold for $135 million in 2006, “the highest sum ever paid for a painting” at that time.
The Kiss was a departure from a major Klimt theme as the painter’s works mostly focused on women. The inclusion of a man—albeit one whose face is obscured—was unusual for Klimt. The figures’ modest dress also marks this painting as one of Klimt’s more conservative creations.
The Kiss may be a self-portrait. Some art historians have theorized that the lovers seen lip-locked here are none other than the Austrian painter and his long-time partner, fashion designer Emilie Flöge, who he had previously depicted in a portrait. Others suggest the female was the model known as 'Red Hilda'; she bears strong resemblance to the model in his Woman With Feather Boa, Goldfish and Danaë.