Painted at some point in 1907 and 1908, during the height of his Golden Period, The Kiss, a shimmering and clourful oil-on-canvas painting created by the Austrian Symbolist painter Gustav Klimt, is considered a masterpiece of the early modern period and his personal best. The Kiss invites the viewer to dive into this erotic, ambiguous, and mythical work and discover its fascinating meaning.
Known for his ethereal, pattern-rich portraits, Gustav Klimt painted the Kiss in the midst of an artistic panic, when his three-part work for the ceiling of the University of Vienna’s Great Hall, Philosophy, Medicine and Jurisprudence, received scathing criticism, created a scandal, and were described as pornographic and evidence of perverted excess. Moreover, he had by that time, left the Vienna Sedespite, although he was a founder member and the first president of the group that aimed to break ties with the Academy of Fine Arts and its conservative values, refusing to remove sexual elements from their works.
However, Klimt did not stop there. After breaking away from the Secession, he arranged to exhibit the Kiss for the public for the first time, which again faced fierce criticism, ended in financial, but initiated the astronomical success of the Kiss. It was purchased by the Government of Vienna, even before the end of the exhibition, as it was deemed a national interest. Today, the awe-inspiring masterpiece, created by is housed in the Osterreichische Galerie Belvedere, a museum housed in the Belvedere Palace in Vienna.
The Kiss depicts a loving couple, against a flat golden background, closely locked in a very intimate embrace on a green grassy patch of wildflowers that ends under the exposed feet of the woman. While the man is in a robe printed with geometric patterns and subtle swirls and a crown of vines on his head, she is shown in a flowing dress with floral patterns and flowers in her hair. The face of the man is not visible as he leans to kiss his lady love, cradling her face with love and care. The way he gently holds her face in his folded hands clearly indicates his feelings of tenderness and warmth. However, her face is visible as it is turned upwards to receive the much-wanted kiss, and wrapped her lover’s neck with one of her hands, and resting the other on his hand. Her eyes are peacefully closed in the ecstasy of passion, emphasizing the tranquility and intimacy of the scene. Her feet, exposed under the embellishment, suggest that she is kneeling.
Klimt’s use of gold leaf in his works reflects the strong influence of the gold-detailed religious art of the middle ages as well as the sacred works of the mosaic, executed by the artists of the Byzantine Empire. Probably, his use of gold was inspired by his trip to Italy in 1903, when he visited Ravenna and was introduced to the world of Byzantine mosaics in the Church of San Vitale. However, his father’s occupation as a goldsmith could also ignite his passion for the colour of the metal. As he was familiarized with the trade, he used powdered gold coating in the Kiss, where the shimmering background acts as a golden cocoon for the lovers.
It was suggested by many that in the portrait, Klimt represented the moment Apollo kisses Daphne as described in Ovid’s Metamorphoses. However, according to others, it depicts the tale of Orpheus and Eurydice and marked the moment when Orpheus turned around to caress Eurydice and lost his love forever.
Numerous attempts had been made to identify the woman portrayed in The Kiss. While some argued the woman to be Klimt’s long-term partner Emilie Floge, But others speculated that the dark-eyed and long-controversial Adele Bloch-Bauer, who anchors the works that represent the apex of Klimt’s golden phase, was the closed-eyed, blessed-out woman in The Kiss. However, she could also be any one of the many muses or romantic conquests of Klimt, who loved women relentlessly, and had many lovers in his life.