Gustav Klimt Honored By Google on 150th Birthday

For his 150th birthday, Gustav Klimt received a decidedly contemporary gift: a global Google Doodle.

Google Doodles are decorative changes made to the Google logo in honor of special figures or holidays. On July 14, the Google homepage showed illustrator Jennifer Hom’s rendition of the Austrian painter Klimt’s 1907-1908 painting, “The Kiss.” 

Klimt was a trailblazing, modern artist. Born in Austria in 1862, Klimt went on to push the boundaries of propriety in art. Contemporaries with Freud, another Austrian who brought sexuality to the forefront of intellectual discussion, Klimt’s style is recognizable to us now for his fascination with nature, symbolism, and eroticism. 

In fin-de-siècle Vienna, when mostly conservative, historicist paintings about kings and gods were exhibited, it’s plain to see why a painting like “The Kiss” may have been shocking to its first viewers. “The Kiss” is Klimt’s most famous painting, and the crowning achievement of his “Golden Period” in which he applied gold leaf to many of his works. Klimt’s celebration of the intimate is apparent in “The Kiss,” in which a man bends a woman’s head back rigidly and tenderly, embracing her in a dappled field of gold and green.

Eager to ruffle society’s feathers, Klimt was a founding member and first president of the Vienna Secession. Started in 1897 by a group of artists fed up with the conservative Viennese art scene, the Secessionists’ goal was to present new and groundbreaking artists, such as French impressionists, to the public.

It’s hard to imagine a time when French impressionists were shocking or avant-garde. However, Gustav Klimt’s paintings remain striking to this very day, which you can tell by their price tags. In 2006, Neue Galerie bought “Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I” for 135 million dollars. This painting was embroiled in scandal even before it was sold, when the niece of the portrait subject claimed Nazis had taken the painting during wartime and that the artwork was rightfully hers. She won her case and was awarded the painting, finally putting it up for auction.