The kiss (Klimt)

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The kiss - lovers (Gustav Klimt)
The kiss - lovers
Gustav Klimt , 1908/09
Oil on canvas
180 × 180 cm
Austrian Gallery Belvedere, Inv.-No. 912

The kiss , original title The Lovers , is one of the most important works by Gustav Klimt and also of Art Nouveau painting . It is also considered the painter's most famous painting, as it was widely distributed through reproductions in many forms. Klimt painted the picture in the first half of 1908 and completed it in 1909, a period known as Klimt's golden phase and from which his most popular works come. It was acquired at the Vienna Art Show in 1908 by the then imperial-royal Ministry of Culture and Education (Minister was Gustav Marchet ) for the high sum of 25,000 crowns and transferred to the Neue Galerie (now the Austrian gallery set up in 1903 in the summer palace of Prince Eugene of Savoy on Rennweg) Galerie Belvedere ), where it is exhibited to this day.


The square painting is painted with oil on canvas and is of considerable size with 180 × 180 centimeters. Its predominant material effect is that of the gold color .


The work belongs to a phase of Klimt's oeuvre called the “Golden Period” because the artist made particularly pronounced use of gold colors during this period . The popularity of the paintings of that time may be related to the use of gold bronze. This evokes magical, religious associations as well as those of sheer material value, of preciousness. Models can be found in Byzantine painting, which Klimt studied on a trip to Ravenna ( San Vitale ).

In terms of art history , the work falls into the period of Art Nouveau, which had found a special stamp in Austria through the Vienna Secession , which was significantly influenced by Klimt. His craft training found its way into the style elements of decorative painting, symbols of nature, decorative lines, floral and geometric shapes became independent expressions and were directed against the perceived as rigid historicizing art concept. In terms of social history , it was the time of the Belle Époque , in which the bourgeoisie achieved freedom and wealth in Europe , but with industrialization also a cultural impoverishment was feared. Gustav Klimt transported "the pathos of a highly qualified ornamentation , the magnificence of which actually formed the main element of his idealism " into this society, which is described as materialistic .


Detail from the Beethoven frieze: This kiss to the whole world
Work template for the Stoclet frieze: The fulfillment

Compared to its popularity, this painting has aroused much speculation, but found relatively little independent reception in art history. The idea that the couple embodies Klimt himself and his partner Emilie Flöge is conveyed in particular through the novel The Painted Kiss by Elizabeth Hickley, even if the author ultimately shows that the portrait is an allegory of love .

However, the kiss is used in a variety of discussions, descriptions and essays on Viennese Art Nouveau in general, Klimt's idealism, his ornamental work and his image of women in particular. In the years from 1907, which biographically is seen as Klimt's maturity, a large number of portraits of women emerged with his own character: "Vibrant, refined sensuality is tamed in the relentless severity of a solemn flat style". So this picture radiates superficially with the depicted sensuality, surrounded by the predominant gold tones, the glorification of the love of man and woman. The couple seem to have merged and are surrounded by divine splendor, which, through its spiral processing, suggests infinity: love is immortal. The tension in the representation arises from the contradiction: their merging takes place in front of an abyss that could represent the finitude of all being.

In his studies at the turn of the century (the 19th to the 20th century), the cultural scientist Jost Hermand described the basic idea of ​​the motif in such a way that the preciousness and the glamorous glow emanating from the gold are closely linked to the content of the picture and the two immersed people are caught up in a golden aura, united and separated from the environment. Here, in keeping with the ideology of Art Nouveau, the couple would be portrayed in a “holistic act of experience”, as something “holistic, cosmogonic and close to nature”. Taking up the sensual aspect, the art historian Werner Hofmann stated that Klimt had removed the age-old tension between man and woman from the bodies and shifted it into the ornamentation of their robes, in the contrast of rectangular and round patterns, urge and desire are thus "encoded into an ornamental contrast program" .

In his interpretation of the picture, the art historian and polymath Gottfried Fliedl takes on the thoughts of Hermand and Hofmann and states that in Klimt's depictions of couples the “communicative aspect of love” is hardly considered. His couples are not connected to one another by gestural activity, but rather arise in an ambivalence that conjures up the happiness of erotic union on the one hand, and on the other both dissolves the identity of the people and questions the sexes through the ornamentation. Fliedl places the painting The Kiss in a development series with other works by Klimt.

Already in the faculty pictures (1895–1903) the artist countered the rational belief in progress of the Austrian bourgeoisie with the depiction of a “circular, blind nature”. With the Beethoven Frieze (1902) he conducted a fundamental discussion of male identity, which is exposed to the attacks of hostile powers, and in the final picture The Longing for Happiness is stilled in poetry in which the kiss of a woman is relieved. It represents the dream of a symbiosis of the erotic person with nature, but at the same time it shows a strangely rigid and motionless fusion of the couple.

The kiss continues the rigid amalgamation, the abstract ornaments nullify the physicality and play with gender symbolism, and yet the recognition of the gender segregation is not maintained. In the illustration, the woman is subjected in a kneeling position with the principle of manhood and, as inscribed in the phallic symbol of surrounding the couple halo .

In the Stoclet frieze (1911) the couple is continued with the detail The Fulfillment , now completely left to their own devices, the differentiation is abandoned and the two sexes are symbolized in one figure. The human being becomes an artisan-architectural object, "the rule of the human being over nature has been transformed into the dominating of the things over the human being".

The great popularity of the painting The Kiss is probably explained by the fact that it offers a projection surface for the diverse ideas of infinite love and erotic happiness, embedded in the fascinating aura of gold.


  • Elizabeth Hickey: The Painted Kiss. Bloomsbury Berlin Verlag, Berlin 2005, ISBN 3-8270-0627-9 .


  • Alfred Weidinger, Stefanie Penck: Gustav Klimt, the kiss "lovers". Jovis Verlag, Berlin 2013, ISBN 978-3-86859-309-9 .
  • Alfred Weidinger: The kiss. In: Gustav Klimt. Prestel Verlag, Munich 2007, No. 189, ISBN 978-3-7913-3763-0 , pp. 287 f.
  • Adventure art: Gustav Klimt, fairy tales made of color. Prestel Verlag, Munich 2006, ISBN 3-7913-3462-X .
  • Kunsthaus Zurich: Gustav Klimt. Verlag Gerd Hatje, Stuttgart 1992, ISBN 3-7757-0339-X .
  • Julio Vives Chillida: El significado iconográfico de “El beso (los enamorados)” by Gustav Klimt. comunicació al I Coup de Fouet International Art Nouveau congress. Barcelona, ​​June 2013. Ebook (Universitat de Barcelona, ​​2015. PDF).

Web links

Commons : The Kiss (Klimt)  - Collection of images, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Paul Ferdinand Schmidt: History of modern painting. Kohlhammer Verlag, Stuttgart 1952 (without ISDN) p. 44.
  2. Elizabeth Hickley: The Painted Kiss. Roman, Berlin 2006, ISBN 3-8333-0401-4 ; see in particular p. 329 ff.
  3. Klimt, Gustav . In: Hans Vollmer (Hrsg.): General lexicon of fine artists from antiquity to the present . Founded by Ulrich Thieme and Felix Becker . tape 20 : Kaufmann – Knilling . EA Seemann, Leipzig 1927, p. 505 .
  4. Jost Hermand: The appearance of the beautiful life. Studies at the turn of the century. Frankfurt 1972, ISBN 3-7610-4612-X , p. 148.
  5. Werner Hofmann: Recognize the meat. In: Alfred Pfabigan (ed.): Ornament and asceticism in the zeitgeist of Vienna at the turn of the century. Vienna 1985, ISBN 3-85447-167-X , pp. 120–129, here p. 122.
  6. Gottfried Fliedl: Klimt 1862-1918. The world in female form. Cologne 1991, ISBN 3-8228-0390-1 , pp. 115–119, here p. 117.