Gustav Klimt's golden kiss

16th July 2012

Millions of people around the world logging online on Saturday (July 14th) would have noticed a very special doodle on the Google homepage. It was made in celebration of Gustav Klimt, the colourful Austrian symbolist painter who, had he been an alchemist, would have lived to have been 150.

Alas, alchemy is the stuff of fables. Instead, we achieve immortality through the things we do. In Klimt's case, his celebration of the female form and eroticism, principally through his intricate, vivid and gilded art nouveau-inspired masterpieces, ensures his place in the pantheon of geniuses.

Google had chosen The Kiss as the focus of the doodle, arguably Klimt's most famous work of art. Made during his Golden Phase, where he was at the peak of his success, both artistically and commercially, The Kiss is representative of everything great about Klimt.

The composition is typically lavish, resplendent, richly decorated – golden leaf being the important ingredient – and thematically compelling. It was typical Klimt – brash, passionate and suggestive.

What looks to be a couple in a compassionate embrace, morphed into one physical entity through the patterned cloth of their garments, cosmological almost, their union like the birth of a star or galaxy, is on closer inspection, much more charged and intimate.

This is true love: splendid, consuming, oppressive, so utterly amazing that one can neither resist it nor endure it, suggesting it to be ruinous and thus, paradoxically, impossible to endure.

The moment of the kiss, therefore, in Klimt's painting, is timeless and the couple, physically locked into one another, have no choice but to coexist in the uneasy harmony, and, after everything has collapsed around them, vanish into one another into the great unknown. The painting is a titan of subtext.

It's fair to say then that Google did well to choose this work of art on its homepage, giving Klimt a wider audience than he might be accustomed to. To the non-conversant, The Kiss is a perfect delivery of aesthetics, complemented by an undertone that critics could write pages on.

It was, therefore, a fitting introduction to a true trailblazer who had no delusions about his talent or the power of his work to cause controversy in such perceivably puritanical times.

It wasn't that Klimt was doggedly pugnacious and deliberately antagonistic to the order, galvanised by a sense that he had to shock the establishment. Though he was certainly a captivating fellow, he lived a life that was dictated by his commitment to his work and the pursuit of women.

Society at large therefore, he could give or take, so too other artists. Life was consequently very insular, though he was certainly no social recluse. For him, like many artists, his purpose in life was to create something from which humanity could benefit.

"I am less interested in myself as a subject for a painting than I am in other people, above all women," he once wrote. "There is nothing special about me. I am a painter who paints day after day from morning to night... Whoever wants to know something about me... ought to look carefully at my pictures."

Museums looking for expert art handlers need look no further than Cadogan Tate, which specialises in the moving, handling and storage of fine art.

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