You don’t have to be an art expert to recognize this painting by Gustav Klimt. Next to the Mona Lisa, The Kiss is one of the most replicated images in the art world.
What you may not know, however, is that when Klimt created this work it was considered by many to be pornographic and was extremely unpopular.
Klimt worked in Austria during the era of the Art Nouveau (1890s–1900) — the first international modernist movement of the twentieth century. He was the first leader of the Sezessionstil (the Austrian version of the movement) and led a faction of liberal artists who were dedicated to creating richly decorative art and architecture in order to offer an escape from the drab, ordinary world.
This work, showing a kissing couple emerging from a field of flowers, is considered to be part of Klimt’s ‘golden style’, or works that have figures surrounded by a golden aura.
Though often described as dream-like, luxurious, and sensuous, it is what you see when you look beyond the surface that makes this work so interesting.
Often overlooked is the tension in this couple’s physical relationship. The women’s head is forced uncomfortably against her shoulder and her arms do not surround — what we perceive to be — her lover but are pinned against him. The couple also kneels dangerously close to the edge of a cliff.
Though you can not argue that the work is beautiful, viewers willing to look beyond this beauty may come away feeling a bit unsettled.