5 things you didn't know about Klimt

Updated: Sep 15, 2021

Gustav Klimt (1862 –1918) is one of my favourite artists. It is not surprising, as he has inspired many artists for over 100 years. His paintings are everywhere, reproduced as cards, posters, and fabric prints worldwide. Despite his popularity, not much is known about the artist himself, as he shied away from the public eye and had few close friends.


One only needs to look at Klimt’s paintings to see that he was an avid lover of women. His paintings depict women as powerful, sexual beings and it is not surprising that Klimt had a playboy reputation during his lifetime, despite his discretion. However, there are some facts about Klimt that are rather more surprising, which I have list here.


1. Klimt’s brother was also an artist

Gustav Klimt was one of seven children, and his younger brother Ernst was also a talented artist. They studied together at art school and afterwards worked together on numerous projects. Unfortunately, Ernst died quite suddenly at the age of 28, before his career had really taken off. After his death, Gustav took financial responsibility for Ernst’s wife and daughter, and completed his brother’s unfinished paintings.


2. Klimt was a stereotypical ‘crazy cat lady’

The only thing Klimt loved more than women was cats. He was said to have upwards of 8 or 10 cats roaming around at any one time. He allowed them to wonder freely around his studio, relieving themselves on his sketchbooks. He believed that cat urine was the best fixative for his drawings, although this has not been scientifically proven.


3. Klimt had 14 illegitimate children

Klimt had countless affairs during his lifetime, predominately with his models, and is believed to have fathered at least 14 children. Not much is known about Klimt’s affairs, due to a lack of factual evidence. However, his studio was rumoured to be a hotbed of sexual liaisons. Klimt liked to paint in a caftan with nothing underneath and his later sketchbooks and paintings are strewn with erotic nudes, many of which are so sexually explicit that they have never been exhibited.


4. Klimt’s best friend was a woman

Despite remaining a bachelor, Klimt had a lifelong companion and muse in Emilie Flöge. Emilie was the sister of Ernst’s widow (Klimt’s younger brother’s wife), and she became a close friend of Klimt when she was just 18 years old and he was 30. Emilie was a successful businesswoman, running her own haute couture fashion salon with her sister. Klimt promoted Emilie`s business by recommending her salon to his wealthy clients. Many ladies in his portraits are dressed by the "Flöge Sisters”. Klimt painted Emilie in many of his works and some art historians believe that his famous “The Kiss” (1907–08) shows Klimt and Emilie as lovers. Letters between Klimt and Emilie reveal a close emotional and intellectual connection that probably never crossed over into a sexual relationship. Although speculation remains over the nature of their relationship, no one disputes that they remained in each other’s constant company for much of Klimt’s later life. His last words before he died were "Emilie must come." She inherited half of Klimt's estate, the other half going to his family. Klimt ‘s affection for Emilie endured for 27 years and is immortalised in his paintings of her.


5. Klimt and Egon Schiele died in similar circumstances

Egon Schiele, who was 28 years Klimt’s junior, was a fan of Klimt and sought him out in 1907. Klimt became his mentor and his friend. Whilst their connection in life is well documented, not many realise that they were also connected in death. On 11 January 1918, Klimt suffered a stroke, which left him paralysed and no longer able to paint. Klimt soon contracted influenza and died on 6 February of the same flu pandemic that took Egon Schiele only 9 months later.


Related article

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About the artist

Leah is a Melbourne artist who making figurative work about womanhood and girlhood. She loves all things patterned and often incorporates it into her art.

Stay in touch by signing up to email updates here or follow her artist journey on social media @leahmarianiartspace.


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References

Jones, Jonathan, 2001, The Last Romantic, The Guardian, viewed 31 July 2021, https://www.theguardian.com/education/2001/sep/22/arts.highereducation3.

The Biography of Gustav Klimt, The Art Story, viewed 31 July 2021, https://www.theartstory.org/artist/klimt-gustav/life-and-legacy/.

Gustav Klimt, Biography, viewed 31 July 2021, https://www.biography.com/artist/gustav-klimt.

Stanska, Zusanna, 2017, Gustav Klimt and Emilie Flöge – The Everlasting Friendship, Daily Art Magazine, viewed 31 July 2021, https://www.dailyartmagazine.com/category/artists-stories/.

Street, Bethan, Gustav Klimt and Egon Schiele: Masters of Sex and Death, Rise Art, viewed 31 July 2021, https://www.riseart.com/guide/2289/art-world-news-gustav-klimt-and-egon-schiele-masters-of-sex-and-death

Olikh, Irina, Love Story in Paintings: Gustav Klimt and Emilie Flöge, Arthive, viewed 31 July 2021, https://arthive.com/publications/2756~Love_story_in_paintings_Gustav_Klimt_and_Emilie_Flge