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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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An Allegorical Painting by Gustav Klimt

Music is an oil canvass by Gustav Klimt painted in 1895 and is an allegoric representation of music. Here the central figures are a robed woman holding a lyre, and a sphinx on the right. A Silenus mask on the left is partially obscured by the contemplative woman. Music is one of his earliest paintings and was painted in the Jugendstil or youthful style of the Art Nouveau that was so popular in the late 19th century.

Greek tycoon and patron of the arts, Nikolaus Dumba commissioned Gustav Klimt to decorate two rooms in the Palais Dumba, Vienna. Music was tailored for painting over the door of the music room. Typical of Klimt’s paintings, Music was decorative and allegorical. The lyre is a symbol of music, and the sphinx is a symbol of artistic freedom. The lion’s teeth at the centre denote the spread of new ideas. Gustav Klimt portrayed many influences in his paintings including Classical Greek, Minoan and Egyptian mythologies, and the engravings of Albrecht Dürer.

Gustav Klimt Gustav was born on July 14, 1862 in Baumgarten, Bohemia, in what is now the Czech Republic. He died of stroke in Vienna, Austria on February 6, 1918. His work was viewed as unpredictable, and often provoked outrage for showing nudity and thinly veiled sensual themes. He used subtext and allegory to bring together natural and artificial themes combined with erotic imagery and religious iconography.

He was a key founding member and president of the Vienna Secession in 1897 and its magazine Ver Sacrum. Their symbol was Pallas Athena, the Greek goddess of wisdom and the arts. The objectives of the Vienna Secession were to provide a platform for unconventional, young artists to exhibit and to attract the works of the best foreign artists to Vienna. The association catered to all types of artists including Realists, Naturalists, and Abstracts. Klimt and others left the Secession group in 1908 to form a new association, the Kunstschau or Art Show.

His many critically acclaimed paintings included Pallas Athene in 1898 and Judith I in 1901 and are cited as works from his Golden Phase due to his first utilisation of gold. The Kiss from the period 1907-08 is arguably considered to be the greatest painting ever, better than even the Mona Lisa. Klimt shunned cafe life and other artists publicly, mostly devoting his life to his art and family, and the Vienna Secessionist Movement. He was often seen wearing sandals and a long robe as he worked and relaxed in his home.

Klimt was inspired by artists such as Aubrey Beardsley, and by aspects of Impressionism, which served to develop his own eclectic style that was often erotic and provocative. His works are characterized by a use of symbols and organic forms to express psychological concepts as depicted in Music.