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Secession I

Gustav Klimt, Secession I, 1898. Poster. Color lithograph, 97 x 69 cm. Gift of Bates Lowry. 207.1968. The Museum of Modern Art, New York.

Klimt adopts the use of white space and asymmetrical design of Aubrey Beardsley (1872-1898). Goddess Athena, who personified wisdom, is the figure at the right. This ties the text at the bottom of the poster with the frieze-like panel at the top, which depicts Theseus fighting the Minotaur, symbolizing the artistic struggle against philistinism, ironically displayed when this poster was censored: Klimt had to add a tree to hide Theseus' genitalia.


The Vienna Secession was a group of artists in 1897 fin de siècle Vienna who seceded from the Vienna Künstlerhaus, a mainstream artistic co-op, due to what they perceived as a stasis within the organization. Unlike many of the artists who remained members of the traditional Künstlerhaus, the Secessionists were purposefully inclusive and encouraged the coexistence of many different artistic styles and specialities. Musicians, writers, painters, sculptors, and architects all sought to form a non-hierarchical community whose purpose was to exhibit a feeling of freshness, modernity, and forward-thinking through multiple media. The core Secession members were Gustav Klimt, the Secession's president, Koloman Moser, Josef Hoffmann, Joseph Maria Olbrich, Carl Moll, Franz Matsch, Wilhelm List, Ernst Stöhr, Max Kurzweil, and Josef Engelhart. There were also a few honorary members such as Max Klinger from Germany, Jan Toorop from the Netherlands, Ferdinand Hodler from Switzerland, and Fernand Khnopff from Belgium.

In addition to exhibiting artwork, the Secessionists published a magazine called Ver Sacrum named after the secessio plebis of youths from their elders in ancient Rome. The Secessionists used Ver Sacrum as a space for various contributions from writers, poets, artists, graphic designers, and photographers. Just as with their exhibitions, the Secessionists were particular about Ver Sacrum's content and layout . Each entry, whether it was a short essay or a full-page color illustration, was meant to inform every other entry in order to create a holistic piece of art.

In addition to Ver Sacrum, the Secessionists also published beautifully designed exhibition catalogs as a third space in which to see and learn about the exhibited works. The catalogs listed the name, date, and location of each exhibited work along with a list of contributors and Secession members. They sometimes contained photographs of the more popular works. Graphic, stylized posters and postcards advertised the exhibitions, and became iconic statements in their own right.

Gustav Klimt

(b. 14 July 1862, d. 6 February 1918, Vienna)

Klimt was one of seven children from the marriage of the gold engraver, Ernst Klimt (1832–1892) and Anna Finster (1836–1915). In 1876 he won a scholarship to the Kunstgewerbeschule, modeled on the South Kensington School, and was joined by his younger brother, Ernst in 1877. He was influenced by the decorative work of Hans Makart. From 1880, the Klimt brothers and Franz Matsch worked collaboratively on a number of decorative schemes as the 'Kunstler-Compagnie' at the Burgtheater, Vienna (1886 –1888), the staircase of the Kunsthistorisches Museum (1891) and the Great Hall of the University (1892). In 1890 all three joined the Vienna Artists' Association (Kunstlerhausgenossenschaft).

In 1891, Ernst married Helene Flöge. When he died in December 1892, Gustav became the guardian of their daughter, Helene Louise Klimt. Gustav was involved in a long relationship with his sister-in-law, Emilie Floge, a fashion reform writer. He never married and lived with his mother and his sisters, Klara and Hermine, at Westbahnhofstrasse 36. But he had affairs with various models and fathered illegitimate children.

For the 1894 commission for the Great Hall of the University, Klimt was assigned the faculties of Philosophy, Medicine and Jurisprudence, and these evolved over the next decade, until he withdrew from it in April 1905.

Having formed the Vienna Secession on April 3, 1897, Klimt and twenty-one other artists resigned from the Vienna Artists' Association on May 24–25, 1897. Klimt was named as first President (1897–1899) and shared with Josef Hoffmann and Carl Moll the responsibility for the Secession’s exhibition program.

A visit in 1903 to Ravenna, where he saw the Byzantine mosaics of San Vitale, influenced the development of his so-called “golden style.”

Klimt lent paintings to the Wiener Werkstätte (Vienna Workshops), which Josef Hoffmann, Kolomon Moser, and Fritz Waerndorfer had founded in May 1903. On  June 14, 1905, Klimt and seventeen other artists (known as the Klimt-Gruppe/the Stylists) seceded from the Vienna Secession over their desire to exhibit design as well as art.

In the last ten years of his life, Klimt concentrated on landscapes and portraits, mainly of women. He died on February 6, 1918 from a lung infection.

Gustav Klimt Biography (resource from the Neue Galerie New York)

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