‘The Kiss’ of Gustav Klimt

It was 150 years ago that Gustav Klimt was born. He spent much of his childhood in poverty, but this would not last for long. Being the son of a gold engraver, it came as no surprise that his art would feature heavy use of gold leaf, as well as a highly decorative style that evokes a sense of grandeur and exuberance, proper of the Art Nouveau that he pioneered in Austria. His trips to Venice and Ravenna (where he studied the mosaic techniques and the Byzantine iconography) only served to further enrich his style.

Klimt’s works are among the most expensive paintings ever sold (his Adele Bloch-Bauer I was sold in 2006 for $135 million), but one painting remains to be a universal icon of sensual love: The Kiss. One thing immediately noticeable about this work is the extent to which the image has been commercialized: it is universal in every sense of the word, and you can see its reproductions in so many forms and media from posters and post-cards to mugs and T-shirts. This “commercialization” is something that Klimt himself started, being an excellent marketeer of himself (in that sense, a forerunner of Warhol and Hirst!).

But there is something about “The Kiss” that transcends commercialization and talent…something more profound yet paradoxically simple…this kiss is more than just a fleeting moment, it is rather a whole eternity as the two lovers simply dissolve into each other, both crowned like gods in a celebration of a human emotional ritual that transcends time and space. They are unaware of the onlookers, indifferent to the potential criticism; they belong to another realm where only sensuality is what matters. But then the hands of both lovers in the painting might tempt us to think of something more than just sensuality, something that Klimt himself stated clearly when he said: “All art is erotic.”

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