“If you cannot please everyone with your deeds and your art, please a few. To please many is bad.”
— Gustav Klimt, invoking Friedrich Schiller
TODAY, AS THE 150th anniversary of Gustav Klimt’s birthday is celebrated from the streets of Vienna to the campus of Google, the world is reminded why Klimt -- according to his own adopted criteria -- was a “bad” artist.
On Google’s home page Saturday is a variation on Klimt’s iconic painting “The Kiss” — a Doodle that holds a gilded mirror up to the Art Nouveau painter’s fame and reflects the fact that Klimt, today, pleases many.
The beautiful “golden Doodle” also reflects and refracts other facts about the Austrian artist’s life and legacy, including:
1. Klimt is best remembered by the larger world for works from his “Golden Phase,” when he often tooled the gold leaf in his Symbolist paintings in a style that broke from conservative conventions. (His desire to break away was marked in 1897 by his resignation from the Association of Austrian Artists, as part of the larger Vienna Secession.)
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2. Personally and through paint, Klimt was beguiled by the feminine form. He preferred rendering women to depicting himself, never producing a known self-portrait. (”I am less interested in myself as a subject for a painting than I am in other people, above all women,” he once wrote. “Whoever wants to know something about me ... ought to look carefully at my pictures.”) His fascination courted controversy and charges that his work was pornographic and overly erotic, but also seduced generations of viewers, leading to his greatest fame. Scandal never touched his personal appreciation of women, though, as he led an active sex life while fathering at least 14 children by different women.
3. Today, some Klimt works are worth more than their weight in gold. His 1907 gilt portrait “Adele Bloch-Bauer I” sold in 2006 for a then-record $135-million (going to New York’s Neue Galerie), topping Picasso’s “Boy With a Pipe” as the most paid for a painting. Klimt also fetches money in commemoration: He is being celebrated on a euro coin this year, as he was in 2003.
Klimt died in 1918 after suffering a stroke and contracting pneumonia; he was buried at Vienna’s Hietzing Cemetery. This year, Vienna — where “The Kiss” painting (1907-08) shines on — is celebrating his birthday with special exhibitions and tours.
Klimt used Schiller’s “to please many is bad” quote within his 1899 painting “Nuda Verita,” in which a red-haired nude holds up her mirror of truth. Today, the golden, sexual Doodle aptly mirrors Klimt’s still-shimmering popularity.
[RELATED: John Malkovich starred in the 2006 biopic “Klimt.”]
Comic Riffs’ TOP TWELVE ‘GOOGLE DOODLES’ THAT HONOR MUSICAL & VISUAL ARTISTS (*before today):
1. LES PAUL: THE PLAYABLE GUITAR
2. MARTHA GRAHAM: THE DANCING DOODLE
3. JOHN LENNON: IMAGINE THIS DOODLE
4. FREDDIE MERCURY: THE MUSIC VIDEO
5. JIM HENSON: THE CLICKABLE MUPPETS
6. CHARLES ADDAMS: THE SPOOKY DOODLE
7. ART CLOKEY: THE “GUMBY DOODLE”
8. MARY BLAIR: THE DISNEY DOODLE
9. DIEGO RIVERA: THE LARGER-THAN-LIFE MURAL
10. ALEXANDER CALDER: THE MOBILE DOODLE
11. WILL EISNER: THE SPIRITED DOODLE
12. RICHARD SCARRY: THE BUSTLING NEIGHBORHOOD