Friday, 18 December 2020

Friday 18th December - The Kiss

 I've been trying to avoid today's image.  I love the artist, I love his work and don't actually mind this particular art work but it felt like such an obvious cheat to do it, but here we are.  I can't avoid it any longer...

The Kiss (1907-08) Gustav Klimt

Okay, so the reason I was trying to avoid The Kiss (or Lovers as it's also known) is because it is what we would call in the Walker household, the 'Common People' painting.  To explain, I did not go to university, I did my degrees via distance learning and the superb Open University.  However, Mr Walker did university in the traditional sense.  This was the early to mid 1990s and wherever he went, he could not avoid this...

When I met Mr Walker in 1996 he could not stand Pulp because he had spent the last few years just being inescapably saturated in the music.  I, on the other hand, with my university average age of around 60, was quite delighted with the odd, novel bit of Pulp.  However, that rambling nonsense is sort of how I feel about Klimt.  Despite the Pre-Raphaelites being roundly dismissed by art history courses when I was growing up, you could not spit without hitting some Klimt and usually it was The Kiss.  It was bloody everywhere, on biscuit tins, tea towels and my personal favourite, a 3D resin statuette from the National Gallery. I had become too familiar with it and it lost all its power. I no longer saw it, I saw the mass of marketing and merchandising that had surrounded it.  I think one of the tragedies of loving art from a previous era is that we never experience it new, we're never feeling what the artist and their audience felt when the work was first launched onto the scene.  Even with my very limited art experience before my degree, I knew and was immune to the charms of The Kiss.  However, that has all changed...

Water Serpents (c.1907)

My affair with Klimt began with Gladys.  She was a hefty lass that we bought from Ikea to hang in our front room over our sofa.  Turns out her name wasn't Gladys, despite us christening her that, but she was part of a larger image called Water Serpents and she was obviously by Klimt.  Up until that point I hadn't really given Klimt very much attention but I rather loved Gladys in all her nude-y glory.

From The Beethoven Frieze (1901)

 Then I saw this part of the Beethoven Frieze and I'm sorry, but what in the actual chuff is going on there?!  I wonder if Klimt thought 'I fancy doing something lovely, involving girls, flowers and possibly an animal' and this is what happened.  Here we have Typhoeus, looking like something out of a nightmarish Muppet Show, and his three charming daughters, the Gorgons.  On the right are Lasciviousness, Wantonness and Maureen. On social media, we sometimes play the game of picking which if the nymphs you think you are in Hylas and the Nymphs - it seems deeply inappropriate to do the same here (Bagsy Maureen, as she looks like she knows where the cake is kept)...

Gustav Klimt (and cat)

Oddly, the critics did not take to the glittery hellscape that is the Beethoven Frieze.  It was roundly written off as far too rude and weird, sort of missing the point that maybe that was what he was going for as an interpretation of Wagner's response to the Ninth Symphony.  I think anything that involves both Wagner and the Ninth is going to be a right old palaver, so it's about right, even though the weird giant-y thing will haunt me for a while...

Bernard (35) enjoys gardening, jazz and long walks in the countryside

Swipe left! Left! Damn it, I panicked and swiped right...

Anyway, understandably bruised by the criticism of his enormous artwork, Klimt was filled with self-doubt but determined to do something that people would respond to positively.  In 1908, he revealled Der Kuss (The Kiss), also known as 'The Lovers', a massive canvas almost 6ft square, and decorated with gold leaf, silver and platinum.  The two figures kiss and that's it, but around those two little pink faces are flowers and blocks and all sorts. It has a lot in common with Fulfilment from a couple of years earlier...

Fulfilment (1905-9)

As soon as The Kiss was exhibited (even before he had completely finished it) it was purchased by the Belvedere Museum for a whopping 25,000 crowns overwhelmingly more than the average price paid in Austria for an artwork at the time. Compared with the boobs-and-fluff orgy that is the Beethoven Frieze The Kiss (and Fulfilment) is a modest affair with very little skin showing. So what does it all mean?

Is it just a painting in celebration of a sneaky snog? Obviously art historians are not about to leave it at that and despite Klimt not saying so, have come up with some interesting ideas of what's going on in the picture.  Firstly, they have offered that it might be a celebration of Klimt's love of his artistic collaborator, the designer Emilie Flöge...

Blimey, she rules, look at that outfit! Emilie was a designer and owner of a fashion house, as well as being sister-in-law of Klimt.  The pair of them became long time companions, but the nature of their relationship seems to be up for debate by those who think it's their business to have clarity (such as Germaine Greer, as quoted in Portrait of a Muse, who claims that Klimt never laid a finger on her). Honestly, who cares, because they were obviously devoted to each other. The male figure is meant to be a self-portrait, and it is supposedly a celebration of their love. Well, that's lovely.  Unless, it's another woman entirely and it's all about their love...

Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer (1907)

 The extremely famous woman in gold is of course Adele Bloch-Bauer, another woman who definitely had an affair with Klimt unless she didn't.  For a man known for having affairs with lots of Viennese ladies, much like Rossetti he seems to have not slept with many of them. So, maybe that's not what the kiss in The Kiss is about...

Apollo and Daphne (1908) John William Waterhouse

There is a suggestion that the two might be Apollo and Daphne, probably because of the natural patterns that cover the girl.  She seems to be clothed in nature and I suppose it's not a stretch to say that she is being consumed by it as an escape from her lover's attention.  You could read her expression as rather unengaged or unwilling...

Orpheus Leaving Eurydice (1909) Douglas Strachan

 Another explanation is that the couple are Orpheus and Eurydice at the moment that Orpheus turns irresistibly to embrace his lover. The look on the girls face in The Kiss is supposed to be her fate taking hold, pulling her back into the underworld.  The oddly disjointed nature of the flat pattern and the flesh that make up the female figure could be seen as the woman vanishing a piece at a time, fading even as her lover holds her.  She knows she is leaving, so she doesn't return his kiss or even look at him. The man desperately holds her face, but soon even that will vanish.

So, what does this kiss mean? I think it is a comment on love itself.  The gold and precious metals, coupled with the way in which the man holds the girl's face makes me think that love is a precious thing. He holds her like a valuable object and she closes her eyes in appreciation.  Love means being careful with those you value, taking care of them as you would the most valuable thing in the world.  Carelessness and neglect would tarnish them, doubt would damage them.  Those we love need precious care to keep them present. 

Kiss those you love like they are made of gold, and I'll see you tomorrow...


  1. That's a grand post, Kirsty, and in addition has given me my 2nd best laughing fit of the year. (1st was a revelation at the end of a party - following guidelines and only 5 people, I hasten to add - where I discovered that a circle of friends and acquaintances have believed for years that I was the daughter of Tom Keating the art forger and 'wondered why I wasn't on his Wikipedia page as one of his children and felt so sorry for me about this'). Ah the twists and turns of life. I do so enjoy your sense of humour, but there's canny considered observation too. Merci beaucoup!

    1. How marvellous! Glad I'm spreading some giggles... ;)

  2. Dear Kirsty
    I am always amazed by Klimt's use of pattern and colour - absolutely beautiful. The 'gorilla-like' creature freaks me out somewhat though.
    Best wishes

    1. Bernard is just looking for love - he likes long evenings in with a good book and a glass of sherry and would like to meet a lady monster with similar interests...

  3. Thanks for including lovely, lovely Emilie Flöge. What an ace woman!

    Some years ago, Tate Livepool had a Gustav Klimt: Painting, Design and Modern Life in Vienna 1900 show featuring a recreation of the Beethoven Frieze - and Bernard looked really quite ripped and fierce. There was a little side room where you could view some of Klimts quite naughty drawings of ladies in the nip having a cavort (ahem). He was a bit of a lad apparently.

    Emilie Flöge was quite the dress designer and I can't imagine she'd put up with any nonsense from Gustav lol


Many thanks for your comment. I shall post it up shortly! Kx