I was eighteen the first time I came across “The Kiss”. At first I thought it was made in the eighties (that’s the decade I was 18) and I was surprised that it’s from early 1900, 1907 to be exact. I understood that this was not some modern art postcard, and I realized that this piece of art did something to me. Maybe it was because I had a huge crush on a handsome fellow student at the time, but I think I relate this painting to my own erotic awakening as well as the start of my deep grounded passion for art.
The Kiss is Gustav Klimt’s most famous painting and depicts an embraced couple sharing a kiss. Similarly painted couples appear in Klimt’s other works, such as Fulfilment. Klimt was a leading artist associated with the Symbolist and Art Nouveau movements, although in many respects his work, and manner of working, was quite distinctive.
He painted The Kiss when he was 45 years old and still living at home with his mother and two sisters. Klimt enjoyed the sight of women, especially redheads, and this is visible in this work and many more. Some critics speculate that Klimt and his beloved Emilie Flöge modeled for the masterpiece; another version suggests that a model called Red Hilda took Flöge’s place. He worked on it between 1907 and 1908 in his so-called “Golden Period”; this referred to Klimt’s use of microscopic pieces of gold and silver in his compositions at this time, thanks to which “Golden Period” images sparkle in the light and remind of old icons. The patterning of the painting has clear ties to the Art Nouveau and the Arts and Crafts movement.
The Kiss is a subtly erotic and mysterious painting. Only by looking closely it is possible to see the woman’s face, her bare shoulder and a tiny hand on the man’s neck. The woman’s eyes are half closed, head tilted. Only half of the man’s face is visible. He is holding the woman’s head to kiss her cheek. Realistically painted parts of the body are contrasted with a gold, quite abstract background.
The Kiss depicts a true, romantic love. The man seems to protect and shield the woman, whilst the woman is pictured as a very subtle and delicate figure. Despite this difference, neither of the characters is dominant in the piece but they are seen as one fused figure. The work can now be seen at Vienna’s Österreichische Galerie Belvedere Museum.