‘The Kiss’, originally presented in 1907–1908, poses a challenging beauty to those who view it. It is not simply an oil canvas painting, but a piece that is characterised by the undeniable awe it inspires in people. But what is it about ‘The Kiss’ that so attracts and enthrals us?

Although we might call the present day ‘modern’, Klimt’s art was presented during the modernist period of history. Beginning at the end of the 19th century and running up to around the end of the second world war, this was a time in which the Western world experienced an amazing change in architecture, literature, art, and culture.

The main aim was complexity. Ezra Pound’s vital quotation, ‘Make it new’, reverberates throughout the modernist period. Things were changing, becoming unfamiliar and profound. Art, in particular, evolved in interesting new ways; sometimes jumbled and confusing, but on the whole open to immense possibility within its interpretation.

The presence of modernism is clear throughout various, if not all, aspects of ‘The Kiss’. We are not given what we would expect of a painting with this title (something modernists liked to do). Instead there is an almost kiss, a distinct lack of clear and direct affection staring back at you. Despite this, however, there is a sweeter, deeper meaning hidden within the painting. The mesmerising quality of Klimt’s piece goes a little bit further than simply ‘Look at all this modernism’.

With ‘The Kiss’, Klimt produces an array of contrasting elements which conflict with one another. Beneath the man-made, luxurious, socially-valued gold lies its opposite – simplistic, green nature. The lovers themselves are presented in opposition through their clothes. The man, with his clean-cut rectangles and squares, is vastly different from the swirls, bouquets, stars and waves of the woman.

Yet, they each infiltrate each other. Waves and curls appear every so often amongst the male lover’s rigid shapes, and, likewise, there are a number of boxes on the woman’s shoulder. There is no clear, distinct line telling us where either figure begins or ends, except in their faces and hands. Everything else between them is gold, patterns, shapes, bursts of colour or monochrome.

This is arguably where Klimt’s real point shines through. He is showing the way in which two utterly different things, people, or sides, can merge together to create beauty. The way in which love, or, at the very least, connection, isn’t always clear on the surface. Whilst the two within the picture may seem different and not entirely suited, there is a level of closeness between them which can only be guessed at, rather than truly discovered, by us as outside observers.

Ultimately, Klimt does not offer a one-dimensional piece within ‘The Kiss’. The longer we look, the more we are forced to reconsider our initial judgement of the painting’s situation, and its elements, as Klimt ‘makes new’ the minute details of a lover’s embrace.

The Kiss image can be found here: https://www.wikiart.org/en/gustav-klimt/the-kiss-1908?utm_source=returned&utm_medium=referral&utm_campaign=referral


Text by Victoria Hill-Chalmers

Picture research by Donna Darafshian; featured image taken from GalleryIntell.