Born in the outskirts of Vienna in 1862, Klimt was the second son of a gold engraver. Perhaps this explain his “gold period” that later came to be known as his legacy. After completing university, he worked on various art commissions, which included the ceilings and murals of public buildings such as churches and theaters. The death of Klimt’s brother and father, had a profound influence on his work. He began to reject the classical style that had earned him acclaim in favor of a more personal approach. He eventually resigned from the conservative Vienna Artists Association and, along with a number of other artists, founded the Vienna Secession Movement in 1897. His sensual approach to art created profound controversy throughout his life, and he was coined a rebel in the art world during a time in Vienna when traditional academic art was the norm. Nevertheless, he succeeded in becoming one of the most important artists to emerge out of the history of Vienna.
Gustav Klimt turned to the theme of ‘sensual women in water’ in two works know as “Water Serpents I” and “Water Serpents II”. Water Serpents I is not an oil painting, and its pale, unusual coloring is in part dictated by the medium used. It does not differ much from the preliminary drawings that Klimt made, apart from the addition of the gold paint, and the green and gold-leaf thread entangled around the women’s bodies. The unambiguously lesbian embrace of his models would perhaps have been unacceptable had it been presented as a simple portrait, considering the conservatism of the era. However, by renaming the work to a fantasy and giving it an allegorical theme and by adding the fish-like serpent behind the bodies and adorning every surface with gold and pattern, Klimt was able to show the painting to Vienna sans fear of censorship.
The basic genres of Klimt’s art remained unchanged up to the time of his death .In his last period, however, these familiar genres were treated with greater expression of feelings and the pictures became less abstract. Human types were no longer disguised in the context of myth or fairy tale. They appeared before the viewer in unvarnished reality. In a later painting, “Women Friends”, Klimt portrayed lesbianism much more openly.
Indeed, Klimt was a painter much more progressive than the conservative era he was a part of. Regarded as highly controversial throughout his lifetime, his posthumous legacy has become a contemporary admiration of his contribution to the History of Art.
Image Source- Klimt Gallery.