Death and Life Gustav Klimt Buy Art Prints Now
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Tom Gurney BSc (Hons) is an art history expert with over 20 years experience
Published on June 19, 2020 / Updated on October 14, 2023
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Colour and form contrast to create a powerful message from this famous Symbolist artist

The symbolism used by Klimt in Death and Life is bold and abrupt, making this a typically accessible artwork. His colour scheme is similarly aggressive, using un-diluted oils, straight onto canvas. Few can fail to spot the message of the artist here.

The two halves of this painting are constructed of Death and Life, with the former on the left and the latter on the right. The grim reaper represents the dark elements to this artwork, whilst the intricate female portrait represents life in all it's purity and beauty.

Many of the elements representing life here can be found throughout his career, such as the flower patterns in The Kiss or the mix of generations found in Three Ages of Woman. Females are portrayed several times in this painting, something Klimt prefered and also his way of symbolising life.

Women and nature together, intertwined, were the two aspects of life that appealed to a positive-minded Klimt. Again, in his indoor garden frieze, he would produce Tree of Life, for example.

The Death and Life Painting by Gustav Klimt is eerie. The artist tackles a topic which raises fear in many people. He has positioned each element in the painting carefully, directing the eyes from one subject to another as he tells his story.

The painting is divided into two halves and is designed as a reminder that Life is always being observed with a degree of malice. This is true for people of any age. Older and younger men and women are represented in the painting, seemingly unaware that at any moment, Death may strike.

Klimt has always utilised colour for contrast in his paintings and his execution of "Death and Life" is no different. Death is portrayed in deep tones, wielding an object that can be used to strike down anyone. It contemplates people from different backgrounds, who are positioned to the viewer's right.

As a Symbolist artist, Klimt suggests several ideas through his use of various symbols in "Death and Life" which are intermingled with the people. Death gazes at everything as a whole, assessing adults in their prime, children and the hidden things represented through symbolism. All of these form Life and the shape of Life approximates a circle.

Klimt's subjects in the circle are there as a reminder that even if Death strikes one, the rest will remain to continue living and thriving. The forms he has used are chilling. His colours are also symbolic as he does not hesitate in applying undiluted oils to the canvas. Death is bold and striking. Its intentions are not subtle or hidden.

The pigments used to portray Life are bright and in one section, flowers seem to be freshly blooming. Other circular ornaments are found right around the circle of Life. They adorn it and speak of beauty which continues even after the roughest times.

Gustav Klimt described "Death and Life" as his most important figurative painting. While it was completed in 1910, he was not fully satisfied with it even five years later. Eventually, he changed the original gold background to gray. He also added more symbolic ornaments to both Death and Life.