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Creative Genius - Gustav Klimt

Updated: Jun 18, 2023

“Whoever wants to know something about me as an artist which alone is significant, they should look attentively at my pictures and there seek to recognize what I am and what I want. ” - Gustav Klimt


Gustav Klimt, an Austrian painter and one of the most influential artists of the 20th century, was a creator who wanted to be limited by nothing. That was his style, to be original, something that academic standards say is not art. He didn’t play safe, his art wasn’t boring. His 'Golden Phase' was marked by positive critical reaction and financial success. In this article, we will look into the life, creative process, and imagination of this creative genius, explore what made Klimt so unique and discuss how his ideas and artistic endeavors continue to resonate with creatives today.

"Truth is like fire; to tell the truth means to glow and burn" - Gustav Klimt

Life summary

Gustav Klimt was born on July 14, 1862, in Baumgarten, Austria. Growing up in a family of limited means, Klimt displayed a remarkable talent for drawing from an early age. Recognizing his artistic potential, his father, a gold engraver, supported his artistic pursuits. Thanks to the scholarship and effort of his family, he got into the University of Applied Arts Vienna where he studied architectural painting from 1876 until 1883. There, he honed his skills and developed a distinctive style that would later become synonymous with his name.

Early photo of Gustav Klimt

Soon after, he started his career as a painter-decorator. He decorated many famous buildings, like the Kunsthistorisches Museum. He also contributed to the formation of the Vienna Secession - an art movement created in 1897 by the ‘Association of Austrian Artists’ (Austrian painters, graphic artists, sculptors and architects). The goal was to develop a new leading association for young unconventional artists, and to support them by giving them recognition and exhibitions they need to thrive as creative practitioners, no matter how controversial their art was, to separate from conservative rules of art schools. They also aimed to bring the works of the best foreign artists to Vienna, and to publish its own magazine to showcase the work of members.

The group provided encouragement and freedom which the public could not give, creating a safe space for them to explore and showcase their work. As a result, it allowed artists to create without a need for social approval or worries if their artwork will be seen as inappropiate. The group declared no manifesto and did not set out to encourage any particular style. This revolution played a significant role in shaping Vienna’s art culture.


Throughout his life, Gustav Klimt was deeply interested in exploring themes of sensuality, sexuality, and the human form. He drew inspiration from mythology, symbolism, and the natural world, infusing his artworks with an ethereal quality. Klimt's passion for exploring the human psyche and expressing emotions through art was evident in his captivating portraits and allegorical paintings.

Historic Background

During Klimt's lifetime, Europe was undergoing significant social, political, and cultural transformations. The late 19th and early 20th centuries witnessed the rise of the Art Nouveau movement, which embraced organic forms and ornamental design. This era was also marked by Vienna's emergence as a cultural hub, fostering intellectual and artistic exploration. Klimt was influenced by these shifting societal dynamics and played a vital role in shaping Vienna's artistic landscape.


Gustav Klimt's work was influenced by various sources, including ancient Egyptian, Byzantine, and Japanese art, as well as the symbolism movement. The works of artists such as Alphonse Mucha (we recommend exploring his beautiful works), Hans Makart, and Pierre Puvis de Chavannes also left a lasting impact on Klimt's artistic development. Moreover, his exposure to decorative arts and his involvement in the Vienna Secession movement further shaped his artistic style and approach.

Friends and Connections

Klimt's collaborations with architect Josef Hoffmann and the Wiener Werkstätte, a design collective, allowed him to explore interdisciplinary artistic projects. However, it was his friendship and professional partnership with the artist Egon Schiele that had a profound influence on his artistic evolution. Schiele's bold and expressive style pushed Klimt to explore new techniques and subject matter.

Creative Work and Achievements

One of Gustav Klimt's most renowned creations is "The Kiss," an iconic painting that captures the intimacy and passion between two lovers. This masterpiece epitomizes Klimt's unique style, characterized by intricate patterns, decorative motifs, and a mesmerizing use of gold leaf. "The Kiss" solidified Klimt's reputation as a visionary artist and became an enduring symbol of love and sensuality.

"The Kiss" Gustav Klimt, 1907-1908, Oil and gold leaf on canvas, 180 cm × 180 cm, Vienna.

Klimt's "Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I," often referred to as the "Austrian Mona Lisa," is another remarkable creation. This portrait exemplifies Klimt's ability to combine his love for ornamentation with profound emotional depth. The painting's intricate gold patterns, juxtaposed with Adele's enigmatic gaze, showcases Klimt's ability to convey both opulence and vulnerability within a single artwork.

"Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I" Gustav Klimt, 1907, Oil and gold leaf on canvas, 140 cm × 140 cm, New York

In addition to his paintings, Gustav Klimt's contributions to the field of decorative arts are noteworthy. His involvement in the Vienna Secession movement led to collaborations in architecture, furniture design, and textile art. Klimt's murals, created for the University of Vienna's Great Hall, displayed his versatility as an artist and his ability to integrate art into public spaces.


Klimt had a very rebellious personality, he didn’t like conventions and rules imposing what he can paint and what he can’t. He was resolutely anti-establishment in his vision. In his commitment to his craft, Klimt was anti-academic, he instead favored a holistic and less formalized approach. In terms of his personality, Klimt was rather a shy person who avoided large social gatherings. He never painted himself.

“There is nothing that special to see when looking at me.” - Gustav Klimt

Klimt in a light Blue Smock by Egon Schiele, 1913

Creative mind

Gustav Klimt's creativity was fueled by his rich imagination and his ability to perceive beauty in unconventional ways. He found inspiration in the human form, exploring themes of desire, intimacy, and the complexity of human relationships. His ability to intertwine symbolism, myth, and sensuality in his artworks allowed him to create a world that transcended reality and evoked a sense of wonder in the viewer.

Topics of his artworks usually included heavy emotions, shown through paintings and sketches of the female body which are often seen in his creations. His creativity also came from separation from conservative Viennese art establishment, which led to his creativity being free from any strict rules and traditions. In the case of his creative process, it was influenced by his keen observation of nature and his relentless pursuit of perfection.

Klimt meticulously planned his compositions and experimented with various techniques and materials to achieve his desired visual effects. His affinity for using gold leaf and intricate patterns reflected his belief in the transformative power of art, allowing viewers to escape into a realm of opulence and sensuality.


Like many creators who raised their heads above average, Gustav Klimt also faced numerous obstacles throughout his artistic journey. Not everyone in his time showed appreciation of his work. His provocative and sensual works often garnered controversy and criticism from conservative circles. His three paintings, Philosophy, Medicine, and Jurisprudence were criticized for their radical themes and material, and were even called "pornographic". However, Klimt remained resolute in his artistic vision, undeterred by societal constraints. ‘Polite society’ of the late XIX th century wasn’t ready for his creative and brave artworks, his creativity surpassed his time.

“All art is erotic.” - Gustav Klimt

As a result, the three paintings were not displayed on the ceiling of the Great Hall. After this, Klimt swore to never accept public commissions again. Unfortunately, all three paintings were later destroyed during World War II in 1945. Financial challenges also posed obstacles, but Klimt's unwavering dedication to his craft allowed him to overcome these barriers and leave an indelible mark on the art world. Klimt had transformed traditional symbolism into a new language that was more sexual and some people were finding it disturbing.

The paintings of Gustav Klimt lost due to WW2: Jurisprudence (1903–7. Oil on canvas, 430 cm × 300 cm), Medicine (1901-1907,, oil on canvas, 430 x 300 cm) Philosophie 1899–1907, Oil on canvas, 430 x 300 cm

Work habits

Klimt's work habits were characterized by discipline, meticulousness, and an unwavering commitment to his artistic pursuits. He maintained a rigorous daily routine, dedicating long hours to his studio and immersing himself in the creative process. He practiced live drawings daily, sketched nude models in his studio. In order to draw from many angles, he used an adjustable easel. The artist experimented with poses, gestures and expressions, to reach a peak of emotional intensity which he then conveyed through painting.

Klimt's meticulous attention to detail and his willingness to experiment with new techniques and materials were integral to his artistic growth and the realization of his unique vision. For example, he had sometimes set the models on bed to give their poses a sense of flow. His first artstyle was very linear and fluid. Unfortunately, we do not know more about his work habits, since he did not write about his art.


1862: Gustav Klimt is born on July 14 in Baumgarten, Austria.

1876: Klimt enters the Vienna School of Arts and Crafts.

1879: Artist's father passes away, causing financial strain on the family.

1883: Klimt completes his studies at the Vienna School of Arts and Crafts.

1884: Gustav and his brother Ernst establish the "Klimt Brothers" painting studio.

1888: Klimt receives a commission for a series of paintings at the Burgtheater.

1892: Klimt's father's death inspires the creation of "Death and Life," a pivotal work in his career.

1897: Gustav Klimt becomes a founding member of the Vienna Secession movement.

1898: His paintings are met with controversy and criticism for their sensual and provocative nature.

1902: Klimt begins his series of "Golden Phase" paintings, characterized by the use of gold leaf.

1907: Klimt's portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer is completed, becoming one of his most famous works.

1918: The artist falls ill during the Spanish flu pandemic but continues to work on his art.

1918: Gustav Klimt passes away on February 6, leaving behind a significant artistic legacy.

1921: Klimt's artworks are exhibited posthumously at the Vienna Secession.

Creative legacy

He will mostly be remembered for initiating the changes in Viennese and European art of the late 19th and early 20th century. His style inspired many modern artists. He was teaching and inspiring many artists, and one of his most known students is Egon Shiele. Egon wasn’t copying his master, he used his teachings to create his own expressionist-like style, in which you can see the similarity to Klimt’s style.

Today Klimt is remembered as a great artist of modernism and symbolism, and founding member of Vienna’s Secession. It was a place for artists of all types to share their artwork and put it in exhibitions. His creative genius and unwavering dedication to his craft allowed him to create masterpieces that transcend time. Klimt's ability to fuse sensuality, symbolism, and ornamentation shaped a distinct artistic style that continues to captivate audiences worldwide.

Creative tips and takeaways

Don’t let others' negative opinion on your art destroy your self esteem. Use them to your advantage and focus on your creative vision. Don’t be afraid to do something controversial, something that people might criticize. Like Gustav Klimt, embrace your unique perspective and don't be afraid to express it through your creative endeavors. Your individuality is what sets you apart and allows you to create something truly extraordinary.

Look for opportunities to collaborate with individuals from different fields. Just as Klimt collaborated with architects and designers, working with people from diverse backgrounds can provide fresh perspectives and lead to groundbreaking creative projects. Don't be afraid to experiment with new techniques, materials, and ideas. Klimt's willingness to push boundaries and try unconventional approaches contributed to the evolution of his art. Embrace experimentation as a means of expanding your creative horizons.

How can you overcome external criticism and stay true to your artistic vision? Reflect on Klimt's resilience in the face of controversy and draw inspiration from his ability to stand by his artistic convictions. Find your own way on how to infuse beauty and aesthetics into your everyday life. Surround yourself with beauty, whether it's through your room aesthetics, personal style, or small acts of creativity.

Incorporate small moments of beauty into your daily life. Whether it's through arranging flowers or wearing something that makes you feel confident, actively seek out opportunities to infuse beauty and aesthetics into your everyday experiences. By applying these creative tips and engaging in deep reflection, you can ignite your own artistic journey and make meaningful changes in your life. Embrace your unique voice, experiment fearlessly, and let the spirit of Gustav Klimt guide you towards unlocking your own creative genius.

References and additional info

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