GUSTAV KLIMT, Death and Life, 1910/11, reworked in 1912/13 and 1915/16 © Leopold Museum, Vienna, Photo: Leopold Museum, Wien

Gustav Klimt, Death and Life


As one of Gustav Klimt’s central works, this is regarded as one of his greatest allegories, in which he used a bold composition to address the cycle of human life. His first sketches on paper were made as early as 1908 and were brought to oil in 1910. In its first presentation at the 1911 International Art Exhibition in Rome, Klimt received the gold medal. For unknown reasons, he decided to fundamentally revision the work in 1915. Klimt was able to depict the jarring entanglement of life and death through the formal and motivic contrast of a stream of naked human bodies – mother and child, an old woman, a loving couple – surrounded by colorful ornaments and flowers on the right, and the solitary, darkly dressed figure of death on the left. What was supposed to have originally been a gold background appears in the final version as gray, with death appearing almost vigorous, wrapped in a blue ornamental coat and raising a small red club, while life glows with its bright colors, figures, and ornamentation.


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