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The Beethoven Frieze, the famous mural by Gustav Klimt, is located in the Vienna Secession.
© Belvedere Wien (als Leihgabe in der Wiener Secession)
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First he shocked the Viennese, then he enchanted them: Gustav Klimt. As the son of a talented but poor gold engraver, he not only revolutionized artistic techniques, but also broke taboos of desire and eroticism with passionate fervor. As a contemporary of Sigmund Freud and Gustav Mahler, Gustav Klimt experienced the ascendancy of the Austrian capital city. As a fascinating rebel for the freedom of art and sexuality, Gustav Klimt gave Vienna a substantial number of precious artworks.
His talent was spotted early on, with Gustav Klimt, supported by a scholarship, entering Vienna's arts and crafts school at the tender age of 14. Gustav Klimt announced the new century, the age of the modern, with a fanfare: When, as an already highly regarded artist, he was commissioned to design the ceilings of the University of Vienna in 1894, the cheeky designs he submitted caused a scandal that reverberated for miles around.
Yet the time was ripe for the indomitable genius of Gustav Klimt: in 1897, he was appointed the first President of the Vienna Secession, a programmatic spin-off from the conservatism of the Vienna Künstlerhaus. Although he felt pressured to decline the commission of the Education Ministry for the ceiling frescos of the University, Gustav Klimt remained true to his preference for presenting tantalizingly naked women's bodies. Many of his paintings are a thoroughly undisguised homage to emancipated, joyous femininity. Embedded in the unique ornamentation of the Art Nouveau period, Klimt paid homage to the world of Viennese women in his portraits.
Starting from Vienna, Klimt's triumphal march took its course through the worldwide art establishment. His paintings were shown and sold across Europe; even in New York they achieved record prices. In particular, his "Golden Period", which brought forth wildly luxurious paintings of enormous material value, has inscribed itself on the global art mind. Perhaps Klimt's most famous painting "The Kiss" (1907/08) is considered a symbol of modern love: at once audacious and extravagant. It can be admired in the Upper Belvedere in Vienna to this day, while numerous replicas have been created elsewhere.
In the final years of his life, Gustav Klimt was increasingly preoccupied with a typical Viennese topic of the time: the combination of sex and death. In the climate of the capital city, in which Sigmund Freud approached the topic from the perspective of psychoanalysis, arose Klimt's painting "Death and Love", which took first prize at the International Art Exhibition in Rome in 1911. Gustav Klimt himself died in 1918 from a stroke, just at the moment when an epoch was in decline. Otto Wagner, Kolo Moser and Egon Schiele died the same year. The Danube monarch lay in ruins. The Viennese buried Klimt in a memorial grave at Hitzinger Cemetery - and are celebrating their unforgotten genius in 2012 with a sense of euphoria.