Masterpieces in History

(Austrian, 1862-1918)
The Kiss
Oil on canvas
180 x 180 cm
Osterreicbiscbe Calerie Belvedere, Vienna

KLIMT, The Kiss

In 1900 Vienna was the glittering hub of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and the world capital of fin-de-siecle culture. Tradition reigned supreme in the city of waltzes and coffeehouses. Mozart, Beethoven and Schubert, the immortal three in music, had lived here. Since the Habsburgs had made it their capital centuries before, all the currents of European culture and civilisation converged in Vienna. A harmony of contrasts, "It was lovely to live here", wrote Stefan Zweig, "for, unconsciously, every person in the city became a sophisticate, a cosmopolitan". The charm of turn-of-thecentury Vienna worked its magic on poets and authors, musicians and artists; the city was full of famous faces such as Hugo von Hofmannsthal, Arnold Schonberg and Gustav Mahler, who all adored it. Yet, an era was drawing to a close, overshadowed by the decline of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Still elegant, the boulevards of Vienna were growing shabby. The clouds of war were gathering on the horizon. The flower of Viennese Jugendstil was in late bloom and the golden age was fading.

Gustav Klimt was regarded as the leading Viennese painter of his day, A goldsmith's son, he founded the "Vienna Secession" in defiance of academic painting. As eclectic as the city itself, Klimt's aesthetic embraced such superficially disparate elements as fin-de-siecle elegance and sensuousness and Byzantine icons and mosaics. Moreover, he incorporated elements of East Asian and ancient Egyptian art in his work. He lavishly bestowed symbolic ornament and decoration on his works, making the surfaces of his pictures glitter with the colours of jewels.

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