A masterpiece of the early modern period, Gustav Klimt's The Kiss is a deceptively simple portrait of lust and love. But beyond that shiny gold leaf, the work is full of fascinating facts.
The Kiss, Klimt's most famous painting, was made between 1907 and 1908, the high point of Klimt's golden period, when he painted several works in a similar golden style.
The inspiration for his golden phase was presumably provided by a visit to Ravenna during his travels through Italy in 1903, which introduced him to the world of Byzantine mosaics. For Klimt, the flatness of the mosaics and their lack of perspective and depth only enhanced their golden brilliance, and he began to make unprecedented use of gold and silver leaf in his own studio.
The Kiss is in the Austrian Gallery of the Upper Belvedere Palace in Vienna.
The painting shows a couple embracing in a field of flowers. The man is leaning over the woman and she, hugging tightly, awaits his kiss. In terms of ornamentation, the male figure is characterized by square and rectangular shapes, while for the female figure soft lines and floral motifs predominate.
Klimt depicts the couple locked in intimacy, while the rest of the painting dissolves into a flamboyant, bright flat pattern.
The pattern has clear links to Art Nouveau and the organic forms of the Arts and Crafts movement. At the same time, the background evokes the conflict between two-dimensionality and three-dimensionality intrinsic to the work of Degas and other modernists.
Paintings like The Kiss were visual manifestations of the fin-de-siecle spirit because they capture a decadence conveyed by opulent and sensual imagery. The use of gold leaf recalls "gilt" medieval illuminated manuscripts and paintings and earlier mosaics, and the spiral patterns of clothing recall Bronze Age art and the decorative tendrils seen in Western art since before classical times.
There have been numerous attempts to identify the woman portrayed in El Beso. Among those mentioned are Klimt's lifelong partner, Emilie Flöge, but also Adele Bloch-Bauer. The subject's well-proportioned facial features reveal a similarity to many of the women Klimt portrayed, but ultimately cannot be unequivocally attributed to any one person.
The Kiss is ranked no. 5 on the list of famous paintings
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