The Kiss is one one the most well-known paintings by the Austrian painter Gustav Klimt, the print versions of which can be found in many peoples homes today. Although the painting today is one of the most popular and recognisable works of art by Klimt, it was painted soon after his three-part Vienna Ceiling series which created a scandal at the time. By contrast The Kiss was enthusiastically received, and bought immediately.
The Kiss was painted by Gustav Klimt between 1907 and 1908, and was the highpoint of his “Golden Period”, when he painted a number of works in a similar gilded style. A perfect square, the canvas depicts a couple embracing, locked in intimacy, their bodies entwined in elaborate robes, while the rest of the painting dissolves into shimmering, extravagant flat patterning. The work is made up of a conventional oil paint with layers of gold leaf, which makes it perfectly in place in today’s modern home. The use of gold leaf gives it a decadence and evocative appearance.
The painting is now in the Osterreichische Galerie Belvedere museum in the Belvedere palace, Vienna, and is widely considered a masterpiece of the early modern period. It is a symbol of Viennese Art Nouveau and is considered Klimt’s most popular work.
Gustav Klimt was 45 years old when he painted The Kiss. At the time he was still living with his mother and two unmarried sisters. In contrast to his respectable appearance, he is thought to have fathered at least three illegitmate children and was known to have an extreme sexual appetite.
While The Kiss reflects Klimt’s fascination with eroticism, it differs from other paintings of his where women are typically seen as femme fatales. The Kiss depicts a strong female with the most colourful body, not just an object of desire. Yet there is also a tenderness in the tight embrace within which she is held.
The two figures are entwined at the edge of a patch of flowery meadow. The man wears a robe with black and white rectangles irregularly placed on gold leaf decorated with spirals. He wears a crown of vines while the woman is shown in a tight-fitting dress with flower-like motifs on a background of parallel wavy lines. Her hair is sprinkled with flowers and is worn up in a halo-like circle that highlights her face, and is continued under her chin by what seems to be a necklace of flowers.
It is thought that Klimt and a companion of his may have modeled for the work but this has not been proven. Klimt’s use of gold and silver leaf was inspired by a trip he had made to a church in Italy in 1903 where he was fascinated with the brilliance of the gold mosaics that he saw there.