Unlocking the Exquisite Details in Klimt’s Intimate Painting

Discover a rendition of love

Christopher P Jones
6 min readMay 30, 2024

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The Kiss (1907–08) by Gustav Klimt. Oil and gold leaf on canvas. 180 × 180 cm. Österreichische Galerie Belvedere Museum, Vienna, Austria. Image source Wikimedia Commons

There are few paintings that are as universally admired, even adored, as this one.

The Austrian artist Gustav Klimt made The Kiss in about 1908. It teems with ornate abstract and floral patterns characteristic of this phase of his artistic career.

From the title of the work and from the image itself, it is obviously a painting about romance and love, but how long have you ever spent actually looking at it? And have you ever wondered who the two lovers are or why they have been given such a strange physical posture? When we focus our attention on the details, a different, more complex reality emerges.

Pleasure and terror

The first detail worth noticing in The Kiss is the position of the woman’s feet. Notice how they appear to be gripping the very edge of the world. What lies beyond is uncertain: a speckled golden haze that occupies nearly half of the canvas space. It might be the night sky or the floating cosmic shimmer of heaven, or else the deep abyss beyond a cliff edge.

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