The Kiss by Gustav Klimt is an oil painting completed in 1907 or 1908. The painting was completed by the Austrian Symbolist painter named Gustav Klimt and it’s actually the most famous piece of Klimt art. It’s a beautiful piece that has quite a story behind it and there are a lot of tidbits about the painting that aren’t quite as well-known as the image of the artwork.
The Painting Wasn’t Universally Considered Appropriate
In the early 1900s, the initial reaction to the painting wasn’t unanimously positive. Instead, the general idea at the time was that the artwork was pornographic. By today’s standards, the fully-clothed, entwined couple doesn’t raise many eyebrows. In the more conservative era of the post-Victorian period, The Kiss was seen as rather salacious.
This could also be partially due to the fact that the painting followed Klimt’s showcase dubbed the Vienna Ceiling Paintings displayed at the University of Vienna. This showcase was seen as a general failure and, ironically, they came under the same criticism of being “pornographic.” Arguably, the paintings in the showcase were much more graphic than The Kiss since the figures in many of the pieces were completely or partially disrobed. By comparison, The Kiss was tamer and didn’t come under quite the same level of negative criticism for the subject matter.
The Kiss Had a Panicked Creative Story
After the critical failure of the previous showcase, Klimt was understandably nervous about the direction that his career was taking. In response, his time working on the painting was panicked from the minute he started sketching the base out.
In one letter, Klimt stated that “Either I am too old, or too nervous, or too stupid – there must be something wrong.” This is highly reflective of the anxiety that The Kiss wrought for the paper.
The Painting Was Bought Early
While Klimt was nervous, it’s easy to see from today’s perspective that the painting was a monumental success. Fortunately, Klimt had the chance to experience this success immediately rather than the honor being awarded post-mortem.
The painting was first displayed in the Austrian Gallery in 1908. Early on in its stay here, the Belvedere Museum came to purchase it and pull it into their permanent collection. The most interesting part of this exchange was that the painting wasn’t even done when it was purchased.
This makes it especially incredible that the painting sold for an impressively high price at the time. Before this painting, similar artworks sold for an average of around 500 crowns. In this transaction, though, the Belvedere Museum paid Klimt a total of 25,000 crowns. To translate, this would be about $240,000 in today’s money.
The Kiss has become a prize piece in Vienna, so it’s unlikely that the museum will sell it anytime in the future. If they ever did, many authority figures in the art community hypothesize that The Kiss would break sales records once again.
The Artwork Is Made with Real Gold
The Kiss, very obviously, uses plenty of gold and yellow tones in the palette. However, not all of this is simply oil paint. Instead, some of it is actually real gold.
This is because the painting was created during Klimt’s “Golden Period.” This is interesting in its own right because it shows Klimt’s originality. After all, gold flakes weren’t included in every artist’s medium. However, this is also a deeply personal touch. The use of gold harkens back to Klimt’s life with his father and brother who enjoyed metalwork. Both men had passed away roughly a decade before this painting was put on exhibit. The Kiss actually served as Klimt’s final piece in his Golden Period.
Interestingly, the use of gold leaf in the painting perceived as erotic has also been noted as potentially sacreligious over the years. This is because the use of gold leaf in art is a common theme in religious art, especially Catholicism.
A Stylistic Blend
Klimt was a unique artist because he was attributed to using a number of different styles. When it came to The Kiss, the stylistic inspiration from Byzantium art is obvious. Yet, Klimt still manages to add his own unique twist to it. Even as it was initially released, the modern twist on a classic genre.
The subjects also stood out from Klimt’s usual themes. Many of Klimt’s paintings focused solely on female subjects. This has made The Kiss unique in showing a male and a female figure embracing. As stated before, the robes that the subjects are wrapped in also stand out next to Klimt’s other paintings where clothing wasn’t as much of a focus.
The Kiss by Gustav Klimt is a timeless painting that gained attention before it was even finished and retains this attention over a century later. It has become one of the most commonly reproduced paintings because it’s a beautiful and one-of-a-kind way to showcase a piece of art history.