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The Golden Kiss

Randy H. Sooknanan

Arts & History Writer

Galleria

The Golden Kiss

The Kiss (Lovers) by Gustav Klimt
The Kiss (Lovers) by Gustav Klimt

Oil and gold leaf on canvas, 1907–1908. Österreichische Galerie Belvedere, Vienna, 180 cm × 180 cm

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'The Kiss' was executed as an oil-on-canvas painting by the Austrian symbolist  Gustav Klimt, who here also employed a remarkably heavy mix of added gold leaf, silver, and platinum into his composition. The artwork was painted at some point in 1907 and 1908, which was during the height of what scholars call his "Golden period." The painting is significantly oversized and measures approximately 6 x 6 feet, featuring shimmering gold tones, stylized forms, and sentimental iconography, 'The Kiss' was Klimt's artistic response to seeing the Byzantine mosaics at Ravenna, Italy, which so profoundly affected him and it is the final painting from which he incorporated gold leaf into his works.

​​When we look at this work, we can really see how the general practice reflects a strong influence from the gold-detailed religious art produced in the Middle Ages along with that of sacred works created by artists from the Byzantine Empire. As we can see, the gold leaf use definitely hearkens back to such Byzantine artworks as the mosaics we can find in the Church of San Vitale, which is a late antique church in Ravenna, Italy dating from the 6th-century. The building also houses important surviving examples of early Christian Byzantine architecture and is one of eight structures in Ravenna classified as a UNESCO World Heritage site. The visit to such a place can be thought of as an inspiration to the "Golden period" work of Klimt. The church itself features several Baroque-era frescos, gold-themed triumphal arches, and an interior mosaic dome.
 
Yet still, 'The Kiss' can be viewed as a ménage of many different schools of art. Additionally, we can derive that the composition of this work also reflects the influence of Japanese prints that were highly impactful on some other earlier Impressionist movement paintings. Furthermore, it is also fascinating to note the contrasting patterns of the two lovers' cloaks, which we can say imitates the Arts and Crafts movement of the era as well. Nevertheless, overall, Klimt truly imbued 'The Kiss' with elements of his signature Art Nouveau style.

Another interesting factoid we can consider during the painting's production was the post-Victorian society of the early 1900s view of it. At the time, even with its sheen elements and rather soft-hearted scene, some people perceived 'The Kiss' as pornographic, even though both figures are fully robed in the picture. Despite the public outcry it generated, the painting sold before the artist had completely finished it. The Belvedere Museum of Vienna was the pre-purchaser and to this day the work remains housed there. And ever since, as vistors find the lovers embace each other, it has enchanted audiences dearly.

"The Kiss"
Artist: Gustav Klimt
Dimensions: 1.8 m x 1.8 m
Created: 1907–1908
Style: Oil painting and Gold leaf
Period: Art Nouveau, Symbolism, Modern art, Vienna Secession
Location: Österreichische Galerie Belvedere Museum, Vienna, Austria