Gustav Klimt (1862 – 1918) was an Austrian symbolist painter, member and co-founder of the Vienna Secession movement. His primary subject matter was the female body.
He grew up in poverty in an immigrant family from Bohemia. In 1876 he was awarded a scholarship at the Vienna School of Arts and crafts, where he received training as an architectural painter. He began his career painting large interior murals and ceilings in public buildings including the Burgtheater and was quite successful with this. When in 1892 both his father and brother died and he became responsible for their families, his style changed. It became more personal.
His new style meant to transform traditional imagery, allegory and symbolism into a new language that was more overtly sexual and therefore disturbing. And that led to public outcry and an end to public commissions. But he meant to shake up the establishment.
Around the turn of the century Klimt entered his Golden Phase that went hand in hand with positive critical reactions and success. The golden technique and Byzantine imagery was most likely inspired by his trips to Venice and Ravenna and the beautiful mosaics he saw there.
He died in 1918 after having suffered a stroke and pneumonia due to the influenza epidemic of this year. All his life he was devoted only to his family and his art which is characterized by its detailed ornamentation.