How Belvedere Museum Celebrates 150th Birthday Of Klimt

Everyone knows Klimt.

BELVEDERE
PHOTO ASIA CHIAO

Even the most uninformed of art viewers will recognize the blazing golds and resplendent geometric patterns that are his hallmark, along with the luminous-skinned women who gaze seductively outwards at the viewer, peering out from their two-dimensional world of endless spirals and arabesques. His work has been adopted, modified and knocked-off a thousand times; there are Klimt chocolates, Klimt-printed scarves, Klimt-styled Barbie dolls, and – to my eternal amusement – temporary tattoos of his artwork, so that you can paste a copy of his work onto whichever part of your body strikes your fancy.

And of all his works, perhaps none is better known than The Kiss, in which two lovers are locked in an eternal, golden embrace. Today, the famous work resides in the Österreichische Galerie Belvedere, situated in the heart of Vienna where Klimt himself lived and worked throughout most of his life. This year would have marked Klimt’s 150’s birthday – were he still alive – so accordingly, a plethora of museums are hosting 10 splendid exhibitions of his works in honor of the city’s most renowned artist. Alas, knowing that as a tourist with only a few precious days in the capital, I would never be able to see them all, I caved in to mainstream opinion, and decided to make a pilgrimage to the Belvedere to see the most famous of all his works for myself – The Kiss.

The museum is housed in the Belvedere Palace, a gracefully frosted Baroque building and garden complex that used to belong to an Austrian military commander under the Habsburgs – nowadays, the rooms have been converted into galleries that house primarily Austrian works spanning from the Middle Ages to the 21st century. Upon arrival, I headed through the richly decorated hall – pausing to admire the strikingly carved Atlases that support the vaulted ceiling – straight up the grand staircase to the Jubilee Exhibition. According to the website, the aim was not to focus on relationships or historical context, but to highlight the works themselves, and shed light on the history of Klimt’s reception in the art world.

BELEVEDERE
PHOTO ASIA CHIAO

On display were paintings and drawings made by the artist throughout his career, as well as letters, documents, and works created by his brothers, students, and contemporaries.

Then, turning the corner into the long gallery, I saw it – The Kiss, lit softly from above, and displayed against the dark wall like a shining jewel set into velvet. Despite having seen the work reproduced a thousand times on mugs, t-shirts and postcards in every souvenir store in Vienna, the painting glowed with a soft vibrancy that no copy or photograph could hope to replicate. Seeing the figures so many times had numbed me to their true splendor; the delicate patterns picked out in different shades of gold, and the halo that surrounds her face; the way the feminine curves of her dress contrasts with the strong solidity of the oblong patterns of his cloak, and the way his hands cradle her face with a gentle, insistent pressure just as a real lover’s would. The entire painting thrums with an energy that is at once tense yet gentle, capturing the moment when the lovers’ glow is at their brightest. Standing before the couple, I could feel them defying their dim and the kitsch counterfeits that populate the gift store downstairs, an eternal testament not only to the physical power of art, but to the talents of the artist that created them. Happy 150th birthday Gustav.

Article written by Asia Chiao.

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