Tuesday 20 March 2018

What lies beneath: The Kiss on canvas by Gustav Klimt

The Kiss by Gustav Klimt
The Kiss by Gustav Klimt

Niall MacMonagle

The things we do to be beautiful: Cleopatra bathed every day in asses' milk and El Dorado, King of Manoa, obviously interested in that million-dollar look, had his body oiled and powdered with gold-dust. And in this painting, said to be a portrait of the artist and his lover Emily Flöge, Klimt turned both into a beautifully golden, passionate couple.

This large painting is a perfect square and the lovers are unusually placed so that their heads are close to the top of the canvas. Painted 1908-1909, he and she are all of a piece. Inseparable, they melt into one.

His skin is tanned, hers is delicately and fashionably pale; he is rugged, big-boned, just look at the neck of him; she looks fragile as a flower. Kneeling, she allows herself to be protectively enclosed in his strong arms and his gold robe surrounds her.

The gold colour dominates and the contrasting patterns in their clothes unite and differentiate them. Her dress is colourfully patterned with circular bouquets of blossoms, his golden flowing garment is striking for its black, varied rectangular shapes. She has flowers in her hair, there are leaves in his.

They seem to be kneeling on a bed of flowers on a little promontory and the entire background is a starry darkened gold.

Klimt's use of gold leaf made this artwork more valuable from the moment it was made.

The word gold means to gleam or shine and we glimpse it everyday. A gold ring retains its glow and its rareness makes gold all the more precious.

The world's largest gold bar, in Toi Museum Japan, weighs in at 250 kg and is valued at fourteen million US dollars yet all the gold ever mined would only fill three and a half Olympic-sized swimming pools.

Gustav Klimt believed that "If you can not please everyone with your deeds and your art, please a few" but with this he's pleased lovers everywhere.

Naturally their eyes are closed and he is kissing, nuzzlingly, intensely, his redhead's right jaw. Is this a don't-ruin-my-lipstick kiss? Don't be so unromantic. This is a golden moment and perfect for Valentine's weekend.

Sunday Independent

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