Analysis of Gustav Klimt’s The Kiss (1907-1908)

gustav klimt the kiss

Analysis of Gustav Klimt The Kiss

Melding lyrical and decorative excess, Gustav Klimt’s The Kiss re-presents ancient themes of loving fusion and Grecian Eros for the modern world. As the centerpiece for the massive Kunstschau exhibition of 1908, The Kiss was simultaneously the pinnacle and swan song of Viennese modernism.

The largest exhibition ever organized in Austria (179 artists in 54 rooms) the Kunstschau exhibition revealed its all-embracing style by harmonizing each environment with the same formal language, the same chromatic sensibility, and the same elegance. Not only paintings and drawings were on exhibit but also architecture, furniture, cases, fans, jewelry, glasswork, art posters, ceramics, theatrical costumes, art for children, art for gardens, graveyard art, the complete design of a model house by Hoffmann, a theater, and a cafe.

The central room of the exhibition featured 16 paintings by Gustav Klimt.  This was also Klimt’s last great retrospective. He would be present with only seven works the following year.

This was also the exhibition that most struck the young Egon Schiele, changing the course of his future. Similar to his portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I, the only moments of naturalism in The Kiss are the faces and hands engraved into the golden landscape and the hangings that cover the couple.

After the abstract statement of the Stoclet Frieze and The Tree of Life, originating from the need to properly relate to the architectural environment and craftsmanship, Gustav Klimt returned to establish his characteristic tension between naturalism and decorative abstraction, to reformulate his idea of painting as a harmonious measure, the subtle yet unbreakable balance between heterogeneous sections of surface.

Edvard Munch’s The Kiss (1897) also shows lovers, whose faces seem melded into one, joined in the shape of a bell. But that painting showed a tragic, dark-colored bell that tolls the bitter sound of perdition and guilt. On the other hand, The Kiss by Gustav Klimt shows the golden bell in a utopia of love. Elongated forms are joined to the protective quality of the womb with the vertical dream of ascent – simultaneously bell and column, male and female. The mandorla (almond-shaped enclosure) of light protects the harmony between masculine and feminine, consciousness and unconsciousness, in a dimension beyond the confines of space and time, infinitely distant from all suffering and danger.

With the years of struggle at this point behind him, at the peak of his success and creativity, Klimt created an unforgettable work for a public that would grow greater and greater over time, sealing within the old the near-mystic splendor of the amorous experience that redeems the world.

Melding of Styles and Materials in Gustav Klimt’s The Kiss

Analysis of Gustav Klimt’s the Kiss shows the painting embracing both the linear and geometric shapes of the contemporary Art Nouveau style and the flowing organic forms of the Art and Crafts movement. Gustav Klimt’s painting uses oil paints and sections of gold leaf to create an evocative, resonating image that captures the eye on a purely physical level and taps into ageless themes of love and ecstasy.

Additionally, Gustav Klimt uses a clever combination of a flat two dimensional background perspective juxtaposed against the 3D forms which seem in danger of being swallowed by the shimmering patterns. The two figures seem to almost be collapsing into the flowery precipice that seems to hover amidst shimmering bronze. Reminiscent of medieval mosaics and tapping into a long tradition of other “The Kiss” paintings (Edvard Munch, Francesco Hayez), Gustav Klimt manages to reappropriate religious ecstasy in the name of sensual erotic ecstasy, perhaps contributing to the overall scandal these works generated upon their release.

Real-life Models For Klimt’s The Kiss

It is unknown what real-life persons these two figures are based on. The Kiss could be based on Klimt himself and his partner Emile Floge. Other historians speculate as to whether the female figure could be based on the red-headed model nicknamed “Red Hilda” as the figure featured in The Kiss bears close resemblance to female figures featured in his other paintings, Danae, Goldfish, and Woman with Feather Boa.

Inspired by Byzantine mosaics Klimt had seen on a visit to Italy in 1903, the gold leaf he used in The Kiss paired with flat perspective was to be utilized throughout his ever-popular “golden style.” Today, The Kiss by Gustav Klimt is considered to be one of the masterpieces of early modernism and continues to be disseminated as art posters and postcards while simultaneously inspiring art historians and critics to speculate and analyze the painting. Today, The Kiss is Gustav Klimt’s most popular work and instantly recognizable by millions of people across the world. The painting currently resides at the Österreichische Galerie Belvedere in Vienna, Austria.

History of Gustav Klimt’s The Kiss shows the painting is largely inspired by medieval icons and the end result is a modern icon which has appropriated all the techniques of old artists and updated them with more provocative methods – methods which contemporary critics the times often deemed perverted and pornographic. Whereas medieval mosaics would feature practically asexual angels and saints with halos, Klimt has replaced them with an erotic image of male and female figures with flower patterns replacing the traditional halo around their heads. Also, the way the gold was tooled to rise slightly off the background gives the painting an additional engaging energy.

The sense of the spiritual is overwhelming strong in The Kiss Gustav Klimt and presents the public with a picture of ecstasy wrapped in a familiar and easy to digest spiritual package. Interestingly, the female’s head is full frontal, yet her figure is pressed horizontal against the male. Her eyes are closed as if caught in an eternal interior womb-like world of sanctified ecstasy. The simple act of a kiss has been so aestheticized as to make the moment and perhaps the painting, timeless.


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Main Gallery

Portrait of Adele Bloch Bauer I

The Tree of Life

Death and Life (1911)