top of page

In 500 Words: The Kiss by Gustav Klimt

When Austrian Symbolist Gustav Klimt made a trip to Italy in 1903, he visited Ravenna in the north and witnessed the Byzantine mosaics of the Church of San Vitale. There, Klimt encountered a striking lack of visual perspective that he felt heightened the golden articulations in the artworks. Soon after, the artist paid much greater focus to suffuse gold leaf into his own artistic practice, beginning what scholars call Klimt's Golden Period.

The Kiss | Gustav Klimt |  Public Domain
The Kiss | Gustav Klimt | Public Domain

With elements drawn from Byzantine mosaics, Japanese prints, and the Arts and Crafts movement, Gustav Klimt's The Kiss (1907) is a rich blend of different schools of art. The painting depicts an entwined couple, their elaborate gowns appearing to merge the two bodies. Love, sexuality and intimacy are common themes in Gustav Klimt's works and The Kiss is no different. Locked in an intimate embrace, the couple is luminous against a dulled backdrop. The male figure presses a kiss to the woman's cheek, his hands holding her face. Teetering on the edge of a flowery meadow, the couple seems oblivious to the potential fall beyond the woman's bare feet.

However, as romantic as the scene of The Kiss appears to be, there are darker interpretations. It has been argued that the picture is intended to represent the moments before the Greek mythological character Apollo kisses Daphne, following the Metamorphoses narrative. In this story, Daphne transforms into a laurel tree to escape the unwanted advances of Apollo.

Basilica of San Vitale in Ravenna, Italy The Kiss Klimt Iris28
Basilica of San Vitale in Ravenna, Italy

In addition, some art historians have drawn possible connections between the painting and an ancient Greek legend concerning the fateful love of Orpheus of Thrace and Eurydice. While fleeing the advances of a shepherd, Eurydice was bitten by a snake and dies, and Orpheus sang his grief with his lyre so that the world learned of his sorrow. In The Kiss, Klimt seems to depict the moment Orpheus turns around to caress Eurydice in Hades, thus losing her forever. This is underscored by the fact that the woman's skin is slightly translucent, indicating a fading manifestation. Art historian Alfred Weidinger has also suggested that the work depicts Klimt with his then-girlfriend, Emilie Flöge.

The Kiss was created after Klimt's disastrous Vienna Ceiling Paintings in the Great Hall of the University of Vienna. Due to the nude figures in Klimt's renderings, the art community derided them as pornographic and Klimt was forced to enlist the help of a wealthy patron to repay his commission of 30,000 crowns to Vienna's Ministry of Education.

In the aftermath of the incident, The Kiss was exhibited in Vienna and was received enthusiastically as a celebrated example of Art Nouveau. The painting was purchased unfinished by the Austrian government on the first day it was exhibited. Today, reproductions of The Kiss can be seen everywhere from college dorm room posters to postcards, calendars and tv shows. The immersive quality of Klimt's scrupulous application of gold leaf as well as his mesmeric subject construction has secured the painting alongside other compelling masterpieces from its inception to the current day.




IRIS28 receives an affiliate fee from certain online retailers (like Amazon) when readers click over to their website via the links provided on our site. This policy helps support the operation of our blog and allows us to keep access to our content free to the public. In any case, we always remain objective, impartial and unbiased in circumstances where affiliate links are included.

Megan Kennedy is a writer and multidisciplinary artist based in Canberra, Australia. More of her work can be viewed on her website or Instagram.


bottom of page