Klimt’s “The Kiss” inspired new artistic styles by referencing older works
“The Kiss” by Austrian artist Gustav Klimt – an oil painting on canvas with gold, platinum and silver leaf accents – depicts a man and a woman in a world of gold.
The couple are frozen in place, kneeling in a meadow of blue, yellow and green flowers with a scattering of scarlet. The man wears a cloak covered in intricate rectangular patterns of black, white and gold, and he is crowned with vines. The woman wears a dress of floral circles with vivid shades of red, green, blue and gold; she has flowers in her hair and gold chains wrapping her feet. Their bodies are brighter than the background as if the light from their embrace illuminates their surroundings. He cradles the woman’s face, kissing her on the cheek, his head turned away from the viewer. The woman’s face is upturned, her eyes are closed as her arms wrap around her, centralizing her expression.
Painted in the early 20th century, the work fully exemplifies Klimt’s bold and luminescent golden period. “The Kiss” is considered his most famous work, but other notable pieces are “Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer”, “Beethoven Frieze” or another shiny and intricate geometric piece enveloping figures in metallic flakes that could be attributed to Klimt or an outgrowth of the Art Nouveau ornamental style. Her creativity, expression and energy – which resides in the contrast between life and vibrancy – have inspired generations of artists by taking works from the past and creating new messages of love and eroticism using such a highly decorative style.
Although poorly received by the religious and popular culture of the time, “The Kiss” is particularly reminiscent of the Basilica of San Vitale in Ravenna, Italy. This structure was built during the reign of Emperor Justinian I and contains many well-preserved Byzantine mosaics from hundreds of years ago. For reference, Byzantine art – mainly in the 6th century – used gold mosaics and natural light in churches to explore the glory of God and transform the worshipper. Thus, although Klimt’s work is not religious, his reference to divinity, beauty and splendor is evident.
I love this piece. It’s one of my all-time favorites, and yet I’m still confused. And I admit it, I’m not the most versed art connoisseur. I can recognize big names and even bigger styles, but I love art museums, student galleries and online platforms because there are so many ideas people express about love , life and more, all with varying degrees of popularity. Moreover, the communication can be so extensive. You can look at Klimt’s piece and compare it to other pieces depicting the embrace of lovers in such contrasting expressions. “Le Baiser” by Constantin Brancusi, a pure, cubic limestone statue of a metamorphosed couple, is one of these works.
An interesting aspect of art is that you can look at a painting – even knowing that someone like Klimt’s inspiration comes from Egyptian, Byzantine and Minoan influences – and recognize other elements that add to its interest. For example, the Art Nouveau attributes that were popular in 1900s Vienna and the impact of Japanese prints, illuminated manuscripts and the modernist style can be recognized in Klimt’s pieces I can see the sweet intimacy of two lonely people in the world, the calm of comfort, the conception of the simultaneous enjoyment, of the delight and the weight of such a relationship. However, some also see abandonment or possible resignation on the woman’s face – which is possible with her unusual expression – but with her hand on hers, I think it’s more about intimacy. And, there are so many interpretations beyond that worth considering.