Behind the paint – ‘The Kiss’ by Gustav Klimt

Gustav Klimt

‘The Kiss’ by Gustave Klimt (b.1862 -1918 Vienna) was painted 1907  – 1908, it is probably the Viennese artist’s most famous work.  Klimt trained at the school of Applied Arts in Vienna, but eventually broke away from the State’s patronage to form the Secession group with friends.  The group believed the promotion of the  art of unconventional Austrian painters. 

The Kiss


Klimt explorations of  human relationships  in his work was considered very ‘modern’ at the time.  He believed that no institution or person had the right of censorship over his work  His work is a synthesis of both the decorative and sumptuous Art Nouveau and Symbolism

“Enough of censorship……I want to break free”

This work was part of Klimt’s ‘Golden period’. The Kiss shows the man and woman sharing joy –  symbolically dissolving in an embrace. They stand against a background of  beautiful decoration, which is flecked with gold leaf.  The gold background is not incidental, Klimt’s father was a gold engraver by trade.  He had also learned mosaic techniques, fresco and oil painting.  This influence is seen in the carpet of flowers.  The gold is very like the mosaic found in Byzantine churches: Klimt was very much influenced by Italian mosaics he saw in Ravenna.

close up

 The couple each wear individual highly decorated gowns.   The difference in the gowns is important.  The man’s is of a more geometric patters consisting of black and white ‘masculine’ shapes.  By contrast, the woman’s is flowery – tieing her visually to the carpet of flowers she kneels on and linking her to ‘mother naure’.  Her gown does contain a little of the geometric pattern which unites her and symbolises her unity to the male.  A golden envelope envelops them, symbolically uniting the sexes.   Klimt’s work explores the themes of birth, life death.  The woman is especially depicted by turn as emotional joy bringer, temptress and child bearer.  The bodies fused together as one emphasis their unity.

Klimt loves hands and uses them expressively in his paintings. Also his use of gold, entwined couples and the sumptuousness of his highly decorated work have a hint of opulent decadence about them proclaiming the end of the century (fin de siecle)  a mixture of degeneration and but also hope for the future.

2003 Austria 100 Euro coin front

The Kiss was commemorated on a special collectors Austrian coin 2003.   The front of this euro painting coin shows Klimt in his studio. The Kiss was popular in its own time and was purchased by the Austrian State.  The Secession group was a warded international recognition because of Klimt’s status as an artist unlike Van Gogh who did not know fame whilst he lived. He is featured in ‘Beneath the paint’ here.


2003 Austria 100 Euro coin back

an interesting article about Klimt here


17 thoughts on “Behind the paint – ‘The Kiss’ by Gustav Klimt

  1. I hold Klimt to be, along with Nietzsche and Freud, the decisive shaper of the fin de siecle paradigm. Much of what we call “our world” nowadays started to emerge with the thought, and consequent work, of these men. I love The Kiss… almost as much as Hayez’s version ;-). I adore the contrast between “loud” and “silent” passion in this painting.
    Dear Linda, thanks so much for posting this! Beautiful…

  2. Thanks Jadpaloma, I couldn’t agree more about Freud and Nietzsche, the world needed men of thought, to move things on and to give us a better understanding. I like the unity and the ‘seperateness’ of the lovers in The Kiss – each in their own world – yet sharing their moment. Lovely, thanks for your valid comments Jadepaloma – appreciated!

  3. I have 3 Lamps depicting “the Kiss” however the man appears decidedly “coloured” or dark and the woman appear almost hindu or indian inspired… this normal? I havent seached all the net yet, but when I do the subjects are always ….pale or appear european….any clues? I love the lamps

  4. I am a visitor to Vienna at this juncture. I love paintings. And I heard lot about Klimt and the Kiss. I must see it before I leave Vienna. Thanks for your blog.

  5. Thanks for your blog. When I first saw the KISS in the Belvedere, I was totally shocked. There was a slight tremor in my heart. I was just gazing at it and was dissolved with them.
    Actually, I am a fan of Van Gogh. But I really like this paint! I am even imaging and planning that I will make my proposal with my girlfriend before The Kiss. 🙂

    1. Thanks for reading Quan:-) It seems appropriate to be planning this proposal so near Valentines Day! I hope you do get your wish to propose before The Kiss! I wish you the best – and she accepts 🙂

  6. Klimt explores human relationships in his work in a very ‘modern’ manner for that time. He believed that no institution or person had the right of censorship over his work which is a synthesis of both the decorative and sumptuous Art Nouveau and Symbolism.

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