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  • Writer's pictureGabrielle Turnbull

Gustav the Great

Being passionate about all things arty means I am constantly reading about art history and current art news. And I’m not the only one!

One of my adult (Art So Lively Academy) students recently shared news about the record-breaking art sale of a Gustav Klimt painting. It is entitled `Lady with a Fan` and sold for $A161 million, seemly placing it as the most valuable painting ever sold in Europe!! A Hong Kong collector had successfully purchased it at a Sotheby’s Auction.


It was Klimt’s last painting and was still on his easel when he died aged 55 in 1918. The last time this painting was auctioned was in 1994, fetching just over $A17 million. In 30 years, its value has increased nearly tenfold!


He was born into a family with artistic leanings. His father was a gold engraver, and many of Gustav’s paintings include gold leaf imbuing the work with an ethereal quality. He began his professional career painting interior murals and ceilings in large public buildings. The Austrian Emperor Franz Josef awarded him the Golden Order of Merit for his work.


Austrian-born Gustav Klimt was known as a symbolist painter. This means that he painted images that included certain motifs, shapes, colours and other elements that were symbols for deeper ideas.


Klimt’s paintings expressed underlying meanings not immediately evident. For example, the famous work “The Kiss” (pictured above) is said to represent the mystical union of spiritual and erotic love. The rectangular motif represents the male, and the circle, the female. Two opposites and individuals merging as one with the eternal cosmos.


Other significant symbolists were Paul Gauguin, Freda Kahlo and Edvard Munch with his famous painting `The Scream`.


In his lifetime, Klimt created over 200 paintings. Still, many were destroyed by the Nazis during World War Two because of the artworks’ so-called “indecent” subject matter.


The ‘Lady with a Fan’ has been described as an erotic masterpiece painted by an artist at the height of his powers with strong Asian influences originating primarily from Japan.


In the 1890s, Klimt met fashion designer Emilie Floge and fell in love. Emilie was to become his life companion. It has long been rumoured that his famous painting `The Kiss` is a portrait of Emilie and him together.


In 1918, Klimt fell ill with the so-called `Spanish flu`, which killed nearly 5% of the world’s population at the time. Severe complications, including a stroke, developed causing his death in February 1918.


An untimely ending for this brilliant artist.

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