The Early Days of Klimt

The Early Days of Klimt

Gustav Klimt is born on 14th July 1862 in Baumgarten, a suburb of Vienna. The second of seven children, he is raised in a modest family who are accustomed to moving around. His father, Ernst Klimt’s, career as a goldsmith is to have an important influence on Gustav’s painting. His mother, Anne, is an opera singer and she instils in him a profound love of music.

The Klimt family have art in their DNA: the three sons Gustav, Ernst and Georg all pursue studies in the field. Attending a modern secondary school, it is only a matter of time before Gustav’s notable talent stands out to his professors. In 1876, at age 14, he passes the entry exam into the School of Applied Arts in Vienna and is joined there shortly after by his brothers Ernst and Georg.

This is at a time when, unlike the Academy of Fine Arts, the School of Applied Arts is cultivating a more progressive image. The School’s director, Rudolf von Eitelberger, is particularly mindful of the British Arts and Crafts Movement, which holds art and craftsmanship in the same high regard. Thus, within his establishment, equal importance is given to the teaching of painting and sculpture as that of design and mosaic. Cynics would say that Klimt received his training in decoration rather than Fine Arts. Nevertheless, by contributing to the conception of Gesamtkunstwerk, the notion of a total work of art, which blurs the lines between the different art forms, Klimt becomes a pioneer of modern art.

The School of Applied Arts curriculum leads Klimt towards a career in teaching design. In his 3rd year, while preparing for the state exam, a class visit from Von Eitelberger derails his plans. According to written evidence from Franz Matsch, an acolyte and future associate of Gustav and Ernst Klimt, the School’s director had said to the trio: “Design teachers? You ought to be painters!” And with this, he awards them a grant to continue their studies for another two years. Gustav Klimt choses the painting class taught by renowned painter Ferdinand Laufberger.

On the advice of his professor, Klimt makes a habit of spending his Sundays at the Belvedere Gallery and learns to paint in the style of the masters Rubens and Titian. The work of Hans Makart also makes a significant impression on Klimt early on. Austro-Hungarian court painter Makart works in the purest, historicist tradition and makes a name for himself through his resplendent choices of color.

In 1883, Klimt finishes his studies with distinction and finds a studio in Vienna in which the Künstler-Compagnie, an artist group he founded four years earlier with his brother Ernst and friend Franz Matsch, can get set up.