The Life of Gustav Klimt (1894-1905)

The development of the artist's career

Seated Young Girl (1894) by Gustav KlimtLeopold Museum


Gustav Klimt moved with his mother, his two sisters, Klara and Hermine, and brother Georg into the apartment at 36 Westbahnstraße in Vienna's 7th district, where he would live until his death. The Department of Education commissioned Klimt and Matsch to design ceiling paintings for the large festive hall in the university building in Vienna. Klimt was to create three large-scale faculty paintings and ten spandrel paintings. During this year, Klimt is thought to have painted "Seated Young Girl" (Leopold Museum, Vienna) and "Portrait of an Unknown Woman (Frau Heymann?)" (Wien Museum).

Josef Lewinsky as Carlos in Clavigo (1895) by Gustav KlimtBelvedere


Gustav Klimt and Franz Matsch presented the first small-scale designs for the faculty paintings at the university building in Vienna, which were approved by a commission. Klimt painted, among others, the "Josef Lewinsky as Carlos in Clavigo" painting (Belvedere, Vienna). He also painted "Allegory of Love" (Wien Museum) for the "Allegories and Emblems" portfolio by Martin Gerlach.

14th exhibition at the Vienna Secession (1902) by Moriz NährAustrian National Library


Twenty-three painters, sculptors, and architects belonging to the Austrian Artists' Association at the Künstlerhaus, including Gustav Klimt, formed an independent group within the Artists' Association on April 3, 1897. On May 24, 1897, 13 artists, among them Klimt, announced their withdrawal from the Artists' Association and founded their own artists' association, called the Association of Visual Artists Vienna Secession. Klimt was appointed President of the Secession.

Sonja Knips (1897/1898) by Gustav KlimtBelvedere

During the summer, Klimt went on summer vacation with the Flöge family for the first time. The Flöge family consisted of the three sisters, Pauline, Helene, and Emilie Flöge, their mother, Barbara Flöge, and Helene Luise Klimt, daughter of Helene Flöge and Gustav's brother Ernst, who died at a young age. This year, they spent their summer vacation in Fieberbrunn in Tyrol. From this point on, Klimt traveled to the countryside with the Flöge family for several weeks each summer. He drew inspiration for almost all of his landscape motifs from these summer vacations. 

Klimt began the "Lady by the Fireplace" (Belvedere, Vienna) and "Portrait of Sonja Knips" (Belvedere, Vienna) paintings.

[1st Art Exhibition of the Union of Austrian Artists – Secession (Uncensored)] (1898) by Gustav KlimtMAK – Museum of Applied Arts


In March, the first exhibition of the newly founded Secession opened in the building of the Vienna Horticultural Society. Klimt was responsible for the design of the exhibition poster, which was only allowed to be published after a change requested by the authorities. Klimt relinquished the office of President of the Secession for professional reasons, to devote himself fully to his work on the faculty paintings. For this purpose, he rented an additional studio at 54 Florianigasse in Vienna's 8th district. He kept this studio until 1906.

A Morning by the Pond (1899) by Gustav KlimtLeopold Museum


At the beginning of May, he traveled to Florence, Genoa, Verona, and Venice with the Carl Moll family. On July 6, Gustav Ucicky (died 1961), son of Gustav Klimt and his model Maria Ucicka (1880–1928), was born, and on September 1, another Gustav (died 1976), the son of the artist and Marie "Mizzi" Zimmermann (1879–1975) was born. From August through September, Klimt took a summer vacation in Golling, near Hallein, where he began work on the painting, "A Morning by the Pond" (Leopold Museum, Vienna).

On Lake Attersee (1900) by Gustav KlimtLeopold Museum


The "Philosophy" faculty painting was shown for the first time at the 7th Secession exhibition from March through June, and, right after, at the Paris Exposition. Despite the storm of indignation caused by the painting, especially among the professors at the University of Vienna, it was awarded a gold medal in Paris. In August and September, Klimt and the Flöge family stayed at Litzlberg on Lake Attersee in the Salzkammergut region for the first time. From then on, Attersee would be the favorite destination for Klimt and the Flöge family for their summer vacation. This is where Klimt began work on the "On Lake Attersee" painting (Leopold Museum, Vienna).

Two Composition Sketches for "The Three Gorgons" of the "Beethoven Frieze" (1901) by Gustav KlimtAlbertina Museum


The "Medicine" faculty painting was shown for the first time at the 10th Secession exhibition from March through May. This work also roused vehement criticism from Klimt's opponents, and the debates surrounding it even found their way into the Reichsrat (Imperial Council). As a result, Klimt was denied an appointment as a professor at the Academy of Fine Arts. Klimt began work on the "Beethoven Frieze," for which numerous preliminary drawings and studies were created. He also painted "Judith I" (Belvedere, Vienna) and began work on "Goldfish" (Municipal Fine Arts Museum Solothurn).


Klimt worked intensively on the "Beethoven Frieze," which he completed shortly before the opening of the 14th Secession exhibition, which was shown from April through June. The show turned out to be a huge sensation with the public, but Klimt also faced harsh criticism for his wall frieze. On June 22, Otto, son of Klimt and Marie "Mizzi" Zimmermann, was born, but he died on September 11 of the same year.

Painting "Emilie Flöge" (1902/1903) by Gustav Klimt (1902) by Moriz NährAustrian National Library

Klimt also painted "Water Nymphs (Silverfish)" (Bank of Austria Collection) and the portrait of his life partner, Emilie Flöge (Wien Museum).

Portrait of Emilie Flöge (1902) by Gustav KlimtWien Museum

Gustav Klimt's painting "Medicine" (nach 1901) by Moriz NährAustrian National Library


In May, Klimt made a trip to Ravenna and Venice. He made another trip at the end of November, when he also visited Padua, Pisa, and Florence. From July through September, he stayed in Litzlberg on Lake Attersee. From November 1903 through January 1904, the large-scale "Klimt Collective" took place in the Secession. Among other works, all three faculty paintings were on display for the first time, some in a partially unfinished state. The Art Commission of the Department of Education examined the faculty paintings and proposed not to display them at the university, but to exhibit them in the newly opened Modern Gallery. The poet and art critic Hermann Bahr published a collection of critiques in a separate publication entitled "Against Klimt," directed primarily at the faculty paintings and "Beethoven Frieze".

Portrait of Hermine Gallia (1904) by Gustav KlimtThe National Gallery, London

Klimt completed "The Large Poplar II (Rising Storm)" (Leopold Museum, Vienna) and "Water Nymphs (Silverfish)" (Bank of Austria Collection). He also started work on "Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I" (Neue Galerie, New York), "Hope I" (National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa), and "Portrait of Hermine Gallia" (The National Gallery, London). Finally, he painted "The Golden Knight" (Nagoya, Aichi Prefectural Museum of Art).

Painting "The Three Ages of Woman" (1905) by Gustav Klimt (1908) by Moriz NährAustrian National Library


In May, Klimt stayed in Berlin, where fifteen of his works were exhibited in the second exhibition of the Association of German Artists. Among them was the newly completed painting "The Three Ages of Woman" (Rome, Galleria Nazionale d'Arte Moderna e Contemporanea).

Gustav Klimt in the garden of Villa Moll in Vienna (c. 1904)Austrian National Library

June saw personal disputes within the Secession, as well as disagreements about the role of arts and crafts within the Secession. Klimt and seventeen other artists, among them Josef Hoffmann, Otto Wagner, Carl Moll, and Alfred Roller, relinquished their membership of the Secession and were known from then on as the "Klimt Group”.

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Text: Österreichische Galerie Belvedere / Franz Smola

© Österreichische Galerie Belvedere

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