The Kiss by Gustav Klimt was created in 1906 and is one of this Austrian Symbolist painter’s most famous paintings. Artalistic takes us on a journey back to the early 1900s to learn about this captivating, tender and passionate painting that is now on display in the Belvedere Palace in Vienna’s permanent collection.

The Kiss: Gustav Klimt’s most emblematic painting

A lifetime dedicated to art

Gustav Klimt’s (1862-1918) painting The Kiss is the last piece created during his Gold Phase. Klimt showed an interest in art at an early age. In 1876 at the age of 14, he joined the Vienna School of Decorative Arts where he studied for seven years before training as an architectural painter. He went on to open a studio with his brother called the Company of Artists, producing numerous frescoes commissioned by the city of Vienna.

The Vienna Secession, Scandal & Success

In 1892 Gustav Klimt’s brother and father passed away. These personal tragedies had a profound influence on Klimt’s art and ultimately lead him to dissolve the Company of Artists in the search of more like-minded artists. In 1897 Klimt founded a group called the Vienna Secession alongside Egon Schiele and several other artists. This group rejected classical, academic art and embraced non-traditional artists.

Before creating The Kiss, Klimt painted three famous murals – Philosophy, Medicine and Jurisprudence - for the University of Vienna. This enormous body of work received scathing ridicule as being pornographic and excessively perverted, dashing the artist’s confidence despite his otherwise successful career.

His apparent rejection in Vienna was however not reflected around the world. In more open-minded cities his work was receiving critical acclaim. For example, Medicine received the Grand Prix at the Paris World’s Fair.

Klimt decided to leave the Vienna Secession and continued to produce major works such as the Beethoven Frieze (1902) and the Portrait of Adèle Bloch-Bauer (1907). In 1910 he took part in the Venice Biennale and his painting Life and Death was awarded a prize in Rome at the 1911 International Art Exhibition.

The Kiss: Gustav Klimt’s most eminent painting

Captivating the viewer with rich depth and texture

In the early 1900s Klimt was in the midst of his Golden Phase. Beginning in 1898 with his painting Pallas Athena, Klimt created a series of paintings using gold leaf and a two-dimensional perspective reminiscent of Byzantine mosaics. Klimt’s father had previously worked as a gold engraver so he was familiar with such delicate materials. The simple, flat composition of these pieces reflects the influence of Japanese prints that was also evident in some early Impressionist paintings.

The Kiss by Klimt is larger than life, spanning an impressive 6 X 6 feet and incorporating a golden powder coating, a luminous gold frame that in no way detracts from the painting’s shimmering colors, dazzling beauty and symbolic depth.

Klimt’s The Kiss: the ultimate symbol of eternal love

The painting The Kiss by Gustav Klimt dazzled the public the moment it was first unveiled. The Viennese government purchased the piece, deeming it to be of national interest. The painting depicts a couple kissing each other, wrapped in a golden cloak whose contrasting patterns reflect the Arts and Crafts design movement of the era. Klimt painted "what should not be seen" – the sensual intertwining of bodies, the soft interlocking of lips, eroticism and secret embraces.

Analyzing details of The Kiss by Gustav Klimt

Depth, Love & Eternity

Klimt’s painting The Kiss made it on to our list of 10 emblematic romantic paintings of all time. The Kiss is an impressive piece of work that captivates those who have the chance to see it in person.

The gold is omnipresent, cocooning the couple for eternity, enclosing them in a warm protective sheath. This sublime and gargantuan piece has been analzyed by countless art historians. The following lists some interpretations of its symbolism.

The couple

The man and woman are the only people depicted in Klimt's painting. The Kiss projects the two lovers outside of time and space through their passion and desire for one another. Although we are not certain, it is believed that the lovers depicted are the artist and his long-time partner, fashion designer Emilie Flöge. However, Klimt was a lifelong bachelor who had countless affairs and fathered some 14 children.

The importance of details

The Man

Gustav Klimt is known for using geometric patterns. Here the man's cloak is clearly delineated with a bright gold halo. The dominant pattern on the man’s cloak - a black and white chessboard of rectangles - is a metaphor for male power.

The Woman

The woman’s dress is covered in an equally graphic pattern of voluptuous circles – symbolizing the womb, femininity and maternity. These soft shapes reflect her soft abandon and the typical Art Nouveau style. Art historians fight over the woman’s posture. Is she succumbing to his kiss or hesitantly pushing him away? One arm is wrapped around his shoulder, suggesting her desire and the other hand looks as though she is pushing him away.

A universal message: an ode to love

The meadow full of flowers below the two lovers further nourishes the symbolism of love and shows the important role Klimt felt nature plays in the delicate balance of the world. The Kiss’ powerful symbolism underscores the links between love, spirituality and the divine. Whatever your interpretation of this piece may be, there is no doubt that it is one of the most iconic kisses in art history.

Gustav Klimt's painting The Kiss is a legendary work of art whose details, ambiguity and eroticism have captivated people since its creation. Stay in the know about the latest from the art world by following our blog. Artalistic is one of the leading online platforms for selling and purchasing fine art. Feel free to browse our carefully curated collection of modern and contemporary artworks - paintings, sculptures, drawings, photographs and limited edition prints.