Gustav Klimt’s Iconic Painting The Kiss: An Introduction to Austrian Painter’s Golden, Erotic Masterpiece (1908)

Not long ago I stayed in a hotel by the train sta­tion of a small Kore­an city. In the room hung a repro­duc­tion of Gus­tav Klimt’s Die Umar­mung, or The Embrace. This at first struck me as just anoth­er piece of cul­tur­al­ly incon­gru­ous décor — a phe­nom­e­non hard­ly unknown in this coun­try — but then I real­ized that its sen­si­bil­i­ty was­n’t entire­ly inap­pro­pri­ate. For the room was in what belonged, broad­ly speak­ing, to the cat­e­go­ry of South Kore­a’s “love hotels,” and Klimt, as Great Art Explained cre­ator James Payne puts it, “placed sex­u­al­i­ty at the fore­front of his work.” The artist had that in com­mon with Sig­mund Freud, his fel­low denizen of fin de siè­cle Vien­na.

With paint­ings like Die Umar­mung, Klimt pushed the bound­aries of what Freud called “the mis­un­der­stood and much-maligned erot­ic.” Payne cites those very words in his new video on Klimt’s much bet­ter-known work Der Kuss, or The Kiss.

Com­plet­ed in 1908, the paint­ing shows both the artist’s pen­chant for “alle­go­ry and sym­bol­ism” car­ried over from his younger days, as well as his mature abil­i­ty to trans­form alle­go­ry and sym­bol­ism “into a new lan­guage that was more overt­ly sex­u­al and more dis­turb­ing.” For these and oth­er rea­sons — its near­ly life-size dimen­sions, its lib­er­al use of actu­al gold — The Kiss has for more than a cen­tu­ry been an un-ignor­able work of art, even “an icon for the post-reli­gious age.”

As in his oth­er fif­teen-minute videos, Payne man­ages to dis­cuss both tech­nique and con­text. Here the “delib­er­ate con­trast between the real­is­ti­cal­ly ren­dered flesh and the two-dimen­sion­al abstract orna­men­ta­tion cre­ates an effect almost like pho­to mon­tage.” The fig­ures’ clothes offer “a visu­al metaphor for the emo­tion­al and phys­i­cal expres­sion of erot­ic love,” and their close fram­ing echoes Japan­ese wood­block prints, from which Payne notes that Klimt (like Van Gogh) drew great inspi­ra­tion. He also traces the aes­thet­ic roots of The Kiss through Edvard’s Munch’s epony­mous paint­ing, and Auguste Rod­in’s even ear­li­er sculp­ture. “Once con­sid­ered porno­graph­ic and deviant,” Klimt’s was lat­er “put on dis­play in one of the impe­r­i­al palaces” — and even today, on the oth­er side of the world and in a much hum­bler con­text, it retains its roman­tic pow­er.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Gus­tav Klimt’s Haunt­ing Paint­ings Get Re-Cre­at­ed in Pho­tographs, Fea­tur­ing Live Mod­els, Ornate Props & Real Gold

Art His­to­ry School: Learn About the Art & Lives of Toulouse-Lautrec, Gus­tav Klimt, Frances Bacon, Edvard Munch & Many More

Great Art Explained: Watch 15 Minute Intro­duc­tions to Great Works by Warhol, Rothko, Kahlo, Picas­so & More

New Dig­i­tal Archive Will Fea­ture the Com­plete Works of Egon Schiele: Start with 419 Paint­ings, Draw­ings & Sculp­tures

Explore 7,600 Works of Art by Edvard Munch: They’re Now Dig­i­tized and Free Online

The Sto­ry Behind Rodin’s The Kiss

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the Sub­stack newslet­ter Books on Cities, the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

by | Permalink | Comments (1) |

Sup­port Open Cul­ture

We’re hop­ing to rely on our loy­al read­ers rather than errat­ic ads. To sup­port Open Cul­ture’s edu­ca­tion­al mis­sion, please con­sid­er mak­ing a dona­tion. We accept Pay­Pal, Ven­mo (@openculture), Patre­on and Cryp­to! Please find all options here. We thank you!

Comments (1)
You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

Leave a Reply

Open Culture was founded by Dan Colman.