To a man who seemingly considered himself a Roman God, why on Earth would the opinions of others concern him? Traipsing through his house in a robe and sandals with no undergarments, Klimt embraced the sexual in every aspect of his life. Having fathered 14 children, presumably by several different women, it is clear he loved the erotic adventures of life as much as his art would indicate.
In a time full of “prudes”, as they would be called nowadays, Klimt just didn’t give two “you know whats” about their opinions on the subjects of his art. He liked sex. He liked women. He liked all things erotic. And though his beliefs and style little fit his time, Freud’s ideas and his publication “Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality” showed that Klimt was not alone in exploring this subject matter. Light was being shed upon the subjects of sex, and the base desires of man. Granted, very little light. Like a sliver. But anyway, the door was cracking open ever so slightly. So there’s that.
Klimt exclaimed “all art is erotic.” And perhaps it is. His was just a bit more obvious about it. He explored subjects such as women pleasing themselves, and completely nude women positioned unabashedly. It not only was a subject that he, as a man, of course enjoyed, but his work also showed that women, who were expected to be “ladylike” in that time, had their own sexual needs and desires. And of course, I’m sure Klimt himself would have been all too happy to fill those needs.
Klimt’s art wasn’t always criticized for its “pornographic” nature. Some of his earlier works were criticized as too radical for their extreme symbolism. One such work was his three paintings done on the ceiling of the Great Hall at the University of Vienna in 1894, titled: “Philosophy”, “Medicine”, and “Jurisprudence.” Though despite the disdain these paintings faced in their day, they are still fairly well known till this day. People could not swallow this work at first. Though in later times they became more and more palatable. And now they are considered downright tasty-like a succulent meal at a highly acclaimed restaurant.
But Klimt had to kick the controversy up a notch yet, and did so in 1899 when he painted “Nuda Veritas.” Despite the Austrian language, I’m pretty sure the title makes it clear what problem the audience of the time had with this piece. This painting depicted a starkly naked redheaded woman holding the “mirror of truth.” It read: “If you can not please everyone with your deeds and your art, please a few. To please many is bad.” And thus, Klimt found a politer way of saying “f**k you” to the haters without actually using foul language or sticking up his middle finger.
When Klimt entered his “Golden Phase” with his heavy utilization of gold leaf, most of his subject matter still turned the great majority off from his work, but generally it can be said that many were dazzled by their brilliant appearance. The works in this period were not entirely centered on the sexual, but were erotic in another sense. They held a touch of glamour and glitz that people were, and still are, so attracted to. Besides their “bling” appeal, these paintings incorporated many different and intricate designs, which were brought together from their seeming chaos into a collection that made up large parts of the overall image. One of Klimt’s works from this period, “The Kiss”, was by far the most popular and well known piece of his work. And I won’t try to be cool by proclaiming that my favorite of his pieces was a lesser known one… I’ll admit, “The Kiss” is my favorite of his work. One of my favorite paintings ever, I think. This painting veered away from the erotic and into the realm of the romantic.The magic of the piece suggests that sometimes at least, Klimt thought with his heart and not just his…….let’s say head.
In 1918 Klimt made the best career move he ever could have made. An effective move many artists before him had utilized…he died. The interest in and popularity of his art, as almost always is the case, greatly increased. He is now thought to be the most influential artist to come out of Vienna, and the biggest inspiration to artists after his time that emerged from that city. So no longer does he have to be remembered as the man who went commando that loved to paint boobies.