• Leslie

Kiss It! The Gustav Klimt Guide to Vienna Austria

Updated: Jan 10, 2020

"All art is erotic. ” -- Gustav Klimt

Gustav Klimt, The Kiss, 1907-08

Are you, like many art lovers, obsessed with the gold-toned, seductive Art Nouveau paintings of famed artist Gustave Klimt? And do you like to travel with a theme? If so, this is the perfect guide for you.

I take you on a tour of all the places in Vienna where you can see Klimt's paintings. Klimt is Austria's most famous painter and his work is stashed in some of Vienna's most glamorous buildings. Klimt was born, worked, and died in Vienna, and is synonymous with the city.

There's more to Klimt than the iconic and revolutionary painting The Kiss. Read on for the full scoop.

A Short Biography of Gustav Klimt

Klimt was born in 1862 in Braumgarten, outside Vienna, to an artistically inclined family. At age 14, he went to Vienna's School of Applied Arts. Success came quickly. His mastery at drawing was immediately evident.

Detail from Portrait of a Woman, 1894 -- this painting shows how beautifully Klimt could draw

In 1886, Klimt's first significant commission was at the Burgtheater, Vienna's German language theater. Klimt and his artist brother decorated the ceiling and staircase. Klimt was awarded the Gold Order of Merit for his work.

In 1894, Klimt began work on creating "faculty paintings" for the Great Hall of Vienna University. He created 3 large panels depicting themes of philosophy, medicine, and jurisprudence. But Klimt's style had changed; he didn't stick to the accepted old masters style.

Klimt's work was roundly critiqued at the time, causing a scandal in Vienna. Later, the panels were destroyed by the Nazis. After that, Klimt refused any further public commissions. He was dedicated to the concept of individual and artistic freedom.

Gustav Klimt, Emile Floge, 1902 -- Klimt had a 25 year relationship with Floge

With a group of other progressive artists, Klimt rebelled and founded the Vienna Secession in 1897. A Roman phrase, Secession means "revolt again ruling powers." Klimt became the group's president and guiding spirit.

The Secession marked the formal beginning of modern art in a conservative Austria. The members rejected the classicism of the old order. They championed more expressive and avant garde styles. Klimt's work changed and became even more lush, ornamental, and laden with symbols.

Though Klimt's art was radical, it was revered by the wealthy women of Vienna, especially his "gold period" works. They hired him in droves. Klimt became wealthy by painting languid portraits of pale beauties in extravagant dresses. Eccentrically bohemian, he painted them while wearing a baggy blue caftan.

Gustav Klimt, Adele Bloch-Bauer: Woman in Gold, 1907 -- in the Neue Galerie in New York

For Klimt, all art was erotic, featuring the beauty and danger of women and the themes of life and death. His portraits are often idealized visions of romantic love. The women were often depicted as submissive. But Klimt also painted "femme fatales," as in the risqué case of Judith or Danae.

Klimt was a notorious womanizer. Not exactly shocking given the subject matter of his paintings. His models were often the objects of his affection. But no woman could "put a ring on it." Klimt was a lifelong bachelor and never married.

He did have an everlasting 27 year relationship with Emile Floge, who is reputedly the model for The Kiss. But it's unclear if it was romantic. They may have just had an emotional connection. Floge was a successful business designer, who ran an haute couture fashion salon. She created some of the mosaic-like dresses that appear in Klimt's paintings.

Klimt in his flowing caftan, which was his work outfit of choice

Emile Floge and Gustave Klimt

In spite of his romantic adventures and flowing caftans, the quirky Klimt thought he was dull. He once said, “I am convinced that I am not particularly interesting as a person. There is nothing special about me. I am a painter who paints day after day from morning until night.”

Along with his gorgeous portraits, Klimt painted many landscapes, especially during his summer sojourns. In 1918, Klimt had a stroke. Then he caught pneumonia and died, ending his career at 55. But his beguiling works lives on, especially in Vienna. Here's where you can find Klimt's best paintings in Vienna.

Where To See Gustav Klimt Paintings In Vienna

1. Klimt's Beethoven Frieze at the Vienna Seccesion Museum

A gorilla, you say? The gorilla is actually a mythological giant, Typhoeus. He's a part of a large exquisitely gilded frieze, called the Beethoven Frieze. Klimt painted the panels for the Vienna Secession's 1902 exhibition, which was an homage to Beethoven.

Gustav Klimt, Detail of the Beethoven Frieze, 1902, Secession Building, Vienna Austria

detail from the Beethoven Frieze

The massive Beethoven Frieze from the famous exhibition is based on Richard Wagner’s interpretation of Beethoven’s 9th Symphony. It marks the beginning of Klimt’s “Golden Period," which was inspired by Byzantine mosaics in Ravenna and Venice. It's characterized by the elaborate and opulent use of gold.

Meant for the exhibition only, the Beethoven Frieze was painted directly on the walls. It’s large, standing at 7 feet high with a width of 112 feet, and weighs four tons.

the golden dome of the Vienna Secession building

The frieze illustrates human yearning for happiness in a cruel and misbegotten world, where evil forces and internal weakness plague mankind. Happily, the frieze ends in a kiss, signifying the redemptive power of art.

The frieze is in the Vienna Succession Museum, which was fully renovated in 2018. Built by Joseph Maria Olbrich, the museum was intended as an architectural manifesto, underscoring the creative break. Locals affectionately call the dome the “golden cabbage."

If you want to explore other Beethoven-related sites in Vienna, I've written a guide for that as well.

Address: 12 Friedrichstrasse, Vienna

Hours: 10:00 am to 6:00 pm Tuesday to Sunday

Entry fee: € 9.50

Metro: Karlsplatz

the UNESCO-listed Belvedere Palace, home to the world's largest Klimt collection

2. Klimt at the Belvedere Palace

The best place to ogle Klimt's work in Vienna is undoubtedly the Belvedere Palace. It boasts the world's largest collection of Klimt paintings, with 24 of them. You can expect one or two to be away on tour. When I was last there, I didn't get to see Judith.

The Belvedere's most iconic paintings is undoubtedly Klimt's glittering The Kiss, Klimt's most iconic golden period masterpiece (show above). Plastered on fridge magnets and mouse pads, we've grown used to the image. But, still, nothing prepares you for a glimpse in real life. It's just so beautiful.

Judith and the Head of Holofernes, Gustav Klimt, 1901

Gustave Klimt, Portrait of Sonja Knips, 1898, representative of Klimt's more realistic portraits before his golden period

me at the Belvedere palace, ready to queue up to see The Kiss

Set against a black wall, the gorgeous Kiss portrays two lovers in embellished robes, locked in a tight embrace and enveloped by golden light. The woman is completely encircled by her lover’s arms, almost in a golden cage. The male is a self portrait of Klimt himself.

The Belvedere also other Klimt's other masterpieces like Judith, the Portrait of Fritza Riedler, Sonja Knips and Flowering Poppies.

Address: Upper Belvedere: Prinz-Eugen-Strasse 27, 1030 Vienna

Hours & Ticket Prices

Pro tips: Hour long guided tours in English are available and there is an English audioguide. The Belvedere is with walking distance of the city center. Or you can take the U-Bahn to Sudtirolerplatz or the S-Bahn Station to Quartier Belvedere.


the Burgtheater, on the Ringstrasse

3. Klimt at the Burgtheater

The Burgtheater, affectionally known as the "Burg" to the Viennese, was inaugurated in 1741. It's considered one of the most important German speaking theaters in the world. In fact, three Mozart operas premiered here. The Burg was destroyed in air raid in 1945, but rebuilt in 1953-55.

The Burg's claim to Klimt fame is four ceiling frescos created between 1886-88, next to works by Klimt's brother, Ernst Klimt, and the artist Franz Matsch. Although earlier and more traditional Klimt paintings, they still presage his Secessionist phase.

Sketches for Klimt’s frescos were discovered in the late 1990s in Burg's attic. They include the artist's only self-portrait. By his own admission, Klimt was "less interested in myself as a subject for painting than I am in other people, above all women.”

The sketches are on display in a dedicated Klimt room. You don't have to watch a performance to enter the Burg. Visitors can learn more about the collection on a guided tour. There are daily tours at 3:00 pm that last 60-90 minutes. The English tour is only on the weekend.

Address: Dr. Karl-Lueger-Ring 2, 1010 Vienna

dome and facade of the Kunsthistorisches Museum

4. Klimt at the Kunsthistorisches Museum

Likely the grandest of Vienna's museums, in a sea of riches, is the Kunsthistorisches Museum. It's housed in a fancy palace and consists primarily of works from the Habsburg art collection. Though known for its antiquities, you can find Klimt works on the sumptuous decor of the museum’s stairwell. The stairwell features 40 spandrel paintings, 13 of them Klimt's.

This was an early and important commission for Klimt. The paintings reveal Klimt’s artistic prowess. They depart from strict historicism in that the figures have human rather than god-like characteristics. In 2012, the museum installed a temporary "Klimt Bridge" to mark Klimt's 150th birthday.

the "Klimt Bridge" at the Kunsthistorisches Museum

Detail of one of Klimt's stairwell paintings. As an early work, it's in a completely different style than The Kiss, but you can still somehow tell it's painted by the artist.

A raised platform extended nearly 40 feet above the grand staircase, offering up close views of the Klimt paintings on the upper walls. Via the Swarovski Optics telescope, visitors could zoom in on the dazzling masterpieces. Sadly, the bridge was removed in 2018, so you're now viewing the paintings from 12 meters below.

Address: Burgring 5, 1010 Vienna

Hours & Entry Fees: here

Metro: MuseumsQuartier Station on line U2

Gustav Klimt, Death and Life, 1915

5. Klimt at the Leopold Museum

Located in Vienna's Museum Quarter, the Leopold Museum opened its doors in 2001. It offers the largest collection of modern Austrian art with over 5,000 exhibitions. The collection is especially focused on the transition from Art Noveau to Expressionism.

The museum is home to a variety of Klimt’s masterpieces, such as Death and Life, Attersee, and Still Pond, alongside a collection of approximately 100 drawings. Death and Life is one of Klimt's greatest allegories, in which he used a bold composition to address the cycle of human life.

Address: Museumsplatz 1, 1070 Vienna

Hours: Daily from 10:00 am to 6:00 pm, Thursday open until 9:00 pm, closed Tuesdays Entry fee: €14, free access with the Vienna Pass

Pro tip: All signage at the museum is in German and English

Metro: Museumsquartier on the U2 line

Gustav Klimt, Pallas Athene, 1898

6. Klimt at the Wein Museum

The Wein Museum, or Vienna Museum, also has a few major paintings by Klimt on site. The most famous are Emilie Floge, Pallas Athene, Love and Portrait of an Unknown Woman, The museum also has 411 Klimt drawings, the world's largest collection.

Address: Karlsplatz 8 1040 Vienna

Hours: 10:00 am to 6:00 pm, closed Mondays

Note: Due to remodeling work, the Wien Museum is closed until 2022. During this time, the exhibitions will be held at the MUSA next to Vienna City Hall.

Gustave Klimt, Cartoons for the Stoclet Frieze in Brussels

7. Klimt at the MAK Museum, the Austrian Museum of

Applied Arts/Contemporary Arts

This was where Klimt went to school and learned to paint. Today, you can see 9 gorgeous Klimt sketches or "cartoons," drawn for a mosaic frieze at the Brussels Palais Stoclet. Klimt worked on them from 1905-09.

Address: Stubenring 5

Hours: 10:00 am to 10:00 pm daily (until 6:00 pm on Sunday), closed Mondays

Entry fee: 12 €

Gustav Klimt, Danäe, 1907

8. Galerie Würthle

At Galerie Wurthle, a private art gallery in Vienna, you'll find one of Klimt’s most erotic gold period paintings. Completed in 1907, Danäe is based on a popular theme from Greek mythology. Danäe's father locked her in a bronze tower to protect her from men, fearing any future son would wind up up killing him. But to no avail. While Danäe sleeps, she is visited by Zeus, who impregnates her with golden coins.

Address: Weihburggasse 9, 1010 Vienna

the Klimt Villa, image by Manfred Werner SA

9. The Klimt Villa, the Artist's Atelier

lf you're willing to leave the city, you can take the U4 bound for Hutteldorf and be in Klimt's final lair, where he painted from 1911-18. Klimt's former studio-villa has been completely renovated and re-opened to the public. The studio and reception rooms have been reconstructed based on contemporaneous descriptions and photographs.

Address: Feldmuhlgasse 11

Hours: Thursday through Sunday 10:00 to 6:00 pm, public guided tour at 2:00 pm on Saturday

Entry fee: €10

Gustav Klimt, Portrait of a woman with cape and hat in a three-quarter profile, 1897−98

10. The Albertina Museum

This fantastic museum is a veritable treasure trove of art, with over a million pieces, including paintings by Monet, Degas and Picasso. The Albertina also hosts temporary exhibitions featuring big art names.

The Albertina's Klimt collection covers a vast number of drawings, but you may only be able to see one or two in its permanent exhibition. Anything more depends on their current exhibitions. You have to get lucky.

Address: Albertinaplatz 1, 1010 Vienna

Hours: Daily 10:00 am to 6:00 pm, Wed & Fri 10:00 am to 9:00 pm

Entry fee: € 17.90

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