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Tuesday,December 10,2019
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The Artist of Love: Gustav Klimt

   

  During his lifetime, the artist Gustav Klimt was considered a national treasure in Austria. He still is.  His paintings have been loved by people back then and are loved even more so now.  Also, he was the founder of the Vienna Secession, the Austrian Art Nouveau movement.  There is no doubt that he is one of the most famous and popular artists in the world.

  However, compared with this high reputation as an artist, he was known in his time as the "Vienna Casanova"; furthermore, some of his contemporaries condemned him because he never married or would stay committed to any single woman.  He had numerous lovers and seemed to have an insatiable sexual desire.  You probably have heard of his name in association with a painting by him called "The Kiss", which is one of his famous paintings.  There are many people who love Klimt and his paintings in Korea.

  Now we have good news for them.  Gustav Klimt's fascinating works of art have finally arrived in Seoul, Korea.  This is the first time that Gustav Klimt's exhibition has been held in Asia.  It is such a great opportunity to see this artist’s vision at first-hand. 
 
 Klimt was born in Austria and went to the Vienna School of Arts and Crafts, whose aim was to teach applied art and practical artists.  This school influenced a lot of Klimt's artistic ideas.  Klimt dreamed of an ideal world, filled with absolute love and of an ideal harmony between art and the public.  This is very well reflected in the notion of "total art".  Total art represents the way to put art and life together: to make life into art and art into life.

  You can see this aspect of Klimt's art in the exhibition.  For me, one of the most impressive paintings in the exhibition is The Beethoven Frieze. This painting was intended to pay homage to Beethoven.  The Beethoven Frieze is a 23meter long wall painting which comprehends the “salvation of mankind through art and love.”  It consists of three sections: "Yearning for Happiness," "Hostile Forces," and "This Kiss to the Whole World."  One of its notable points is that each section of the painting is expressed and painted in different ways according to the theme.

  Another important feature in Klimt's art work is the use of color; he especially liked to use shiny gold.  The influence behind the use of this color might have been his father who was a gold engraver.  Klimt used shining gold and dazzling colors a lot in this painting to fully deliver his message: the salvation of mankind through art and love.  It was very impressive because I was able to listen to Beethoven’s Symphony No.9 and look at the painting at the same time.  Klimt had been questioning the meaning of life and this frieze tries to answer his questions through the depiction of humankind's salvation through the unique power of art and love. 

 People say Klimt was an artist who loved women  most.  Woman was a major subject for most of Klimt's art work.  He was truly addicted to womanly beauty and charm.  We may assume that this was the reason why he could not be free from so many sex scandals and was called "Vienna's Casanova."  There were so many paintings and portraits and sketches of women in the exhibition.  Each painting has a story related to a specific woman.

  Among these amazing portraits of women, there is one that especially caught my eye.  It is called "Judith Ι."  This is not a huge painting but I couldn't take my eyes off it.  It attracts people because of its beautiful gold color and the woman's dreamy, erotic face.  This woman is a biblical heroine who, using the power of her beauty, killed Holofernes and saved her nation.  You can see the head of Holofernes in the painting.  Judith has been depicted as a powerful heroic woman in other paintings too.  Yet, this painting seems to be a portrait of human sexual desire rather than the re-imagining of a heroic archetype.  Judith's parted lips and half-closed eyes give the portrait an erotic feel, and her open robes serve the same purpose.  I think such features are what makes this painting more interesting and amazing and shows really well the way Klimt perceived women. 

 Another interesting painting was "Adam and Eve."  This painting describes Adam and Eve in the Bible.  Most other paintings of Adam and Eve express them as sinners.  However, in Klimt's painting, Eve looks more like a goddess.  Klimt focused more on Eve than Adam.  Adam is in the background, a shadow of Eve, and looks pale, while Eve looks so beautiful and dignified.  I could see how much Klimt was attracted to women and how he tried to describe them in a beautiful and attractive way.

  There were so many portraits of beautiful ladies.  I was really amazed because some of them certainly looked like photos.  I could understand the reason why Klimt was so popular with royal ladies because of he painted such beautiful portraits of theirs.  Besides these beautiful and amazing paintings and portraits, there is a chance to get to know about Klimt more personally.  There are many pictures of Klimt and his ladies and some letters that Klimt sent to his lovers.  Some people say he was sexually perverted, while others say he was corrupt.  I dare say that he was one who feared and respected real love.  I felt like I could understand his feelings and loneliness through his beautiful paintings. 

 Another major subject of his art work is nature.  Klimt found his way to landscape painting late in life.   His landscapes have a native and dreamlike quality.  He always used a telescope so as to depict the landscape more accurately.  Strangely, Klimt did not draw sketches or studies for his landscapes, as he did for his portraits and allegories, even though he was a studio painter.  Apparently landscapes were for Klimt an opportunity for peace and meditation.

 "Anyone wanting to know something about me should look closely at my pictures and make out from them what I am and what I want to be."  There are no self portraits of Gustav Klimt, unlike other artists.  Klimt did not have any interest in himself as subject of a picture.  His dreams, passion and personality are absolutely well reflected in his paintings and drawings.  This exhibition is not just an ordinary exhibition.  It is like a secret chapter in a book of a remarkable artist, Gustav Klimt.  It also represents an important cultural diplomatic exchange between Korea and Austria.  Moreover, this exhibition is the last exhibition in the 21st century because the Osterreichische Galerie Belvedere- Austrian national gallery decided not to hold any more exhibitions for 100 years so as to protect Klimt's art work.  Do not miss such a great chance.  This exhibition will be held until 15th of May at the Seoul Arts Center.

Lee Min-jeong

Lee Min-jeong  serendipity@dongguk.edu

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