One of the biggest modern icons of our time, the Kiss, belongs to Gustav Klimt’s Golden Period during which he used gold leaves in his paintings.

Based on a simple composition, the painting is largely covered by a couple in embrace. The man and the woman in golden-yellow coloured long clothes become one in this embrace. The embrace is not an ordinary one, but, indeed it is a very emotionally intense union. The yellow mantle-blanket wraps the couple and reinforces the created sense of unity. The darker skinned, dark haired and broad shouldered man gently holds the woman’s face in his hands, and kisses her passionately. The woman with a paler skin and red hair closes her eyes and looks as if she loses herself in the arms of the man and surrenders with the effect of the kiss. She coils one hand around the man’s neck and holding his hand with the other delicately. Her pose portrays a “never let me go” feeling. The man shows that he has no intention to let go with how he holds her head in his hands. The couple stands almost at the edge of a cliff, and this reinforces the feeling of holding on to each other. This closely intertwined couple also expresses the uniting power of love to the viewer.

The couple in the painting has always been tried to be identified. Generally, the man is speculated to be Gustav Klimt himself, while the woman is claimed to be Emilie Flöge, love of his life and his lifelong companion.

The delicately intricate decoration technique of Art Nouveau is impressively used in this painting, as has been with many other Klimt paintings. The decorative patterns cover most of the painting. The man has a crown of vine leaves on his head and woman’s head is adorned with flowers. The patterns are in masculine forms of black and white rectangles in the man’s clothing, while the woman’s is covered with colourful shapes and flowers in a more feminine form. This flowered dress almost blends in with the flowery ground and connects the woman with a “Mother Earth” theme. The little geometrical forms on the woman’s dress also associate her with the man’s geometrical forms. Both clothes are in shades of gold. This harmony in colours unites the two different characters under one single body with the presence of love. The love emanating from the couple seems to flow down to the earth with golden threads and animates the colourful flowers.

The gold colour in the background was formed utilising gold leaves. Klimt has learned the craftsmanship of gold early from his father who was a gold engraver. Besides growing up in close proximity to gold engraving, Klimt was also inspired by the trip he made to the Italian city Ravenna. Impressed by the gold mosaic covered Byzantine churches of Ravenna, he developed his gold leaf installed style and used that in all his paintings during his Golden Period.

Klimt had always been a womaniser. Thus, his works were specifically formed around “femme fatale” type powerful, seductive, beautiful and erotically charged female figures. Nevertheless, the woman character in the Kiss looks oddly passive and surrendered. Similarly, the male characters are put more in the background in Klimt paintings, however, the man in this painting is the dominant and protective figure. The eroticism accentuated in Klimt paintings appears here, though a little implicitly. The eroticism in the painting is hinted at the viewer through the embrace, the touch of the hands, the expression on the woman’s face and the kiss.

Location: Österreichische Galerie Belvedere, Vienna
Date: 1907-1908
Period: Modernizm
Movement: Art Nouveau

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