A photo of Gustav Klimt, circa 1908, ten years
before his death by a stroke during the terrible 1918
Spanish flu (one of the worst pandemic of the History
along with the plague...
Gustav Klimt (Vienna, Austria, 14 July 1862 - Vienna, Austria, 6 February 1918) was one of the 7 sons of a gold engraver. (two of his brothers were artists as well). In order to be an engraver you must know how to draw well. So, it is not quite a surprise he became an artist himself. I imagine him as a kid looking at his father's bench...
Klimt was both a painter and a designer (he studied at a Kunstgewerbeschule, that is an "applied art" school - in a similar school you can study photography and websdesign, too, today) and he devoted much of his time to architectural decoration as well.
His first monumental and ecclectic paintings were influenced by Hans Makarts from whom he distanced himself since 1897 (the famous Vienna Secession).
No, this is not by Gustav Klimt, but by Hand Makerts whose style influenced Klimt (who later influenced Egon Schiele and Kokoschka in turn). But I think it's important to see what kind of art he was exposed to in the beginning...(note, I don't dislike Makerts. He was in the same wavelength of other good painter of the time such as Jean-Léon Gérôme, now "resurrected" by a personal retrospective exhibition at the Musée d'Orsay in Paris, France)
Another Hans Makarts' painting. Hans Makart (Salzburg, 1840- Vienna, 1884) was an Austrian painter and teacher at the Vienna Academy of Arts. I think he was an example of the main-stream art of the second half of the 19th century: allegorical and historical paintings such as this one.
Tired of the old school, and in the middle of a new "fashion" in art calling for a "new" way of expression, a "New Art"(Art Nouveau 1890 - 1910) he became a leading member of the Vienna Sezession (1898 - 1903), a movement exactly opposing the retorical and historical art of paintings such as Makarts' (see above).
Klimt took inspiration from the past, still. His work condenses the knowledge aquired through the years of serious drawings of Greek, Byzantine (a trip to Ravenna), Egyptian and Mnoan art. Even the old master Albrecht Dürer with his drawings and engravings (though Dürer did not cut the wood himself) were in his arsenal, too. Not to mention the rising star: photography. Max Klinger symbolist art, Franz von Stuck and Fernand Khnopff are finally often mentioned artists whose work inspired Klimt, too.
When you further read about his life, you stumble upon words such "esoteric symbolism", "decorative colors", "Jugendstil" (this is the equivalent of Art Nouveau) and "linear paintings".
That he was a kind of rebel, a "free-spirit", a "bohemian artist" is quite easy to see.
"He was often photographed in a floor-length painter's smock, probably wearing nothing underneath. Also, he was commonly seen in his studio amid models not just nude but naked, in intimate and revealing poses, often in couples and more-somes. Add in the fact that Klimt acknowledged three children out of wedlock, and posthumously faced claims of fourteen more"
(reviewer of Amazon)
Gustav Klimt Bio - a short summary
1876 - 1883: Vienna Kunstgewerbeschule
1893 - 1892: together with his brother Ernst and Franz Match they decorated theaters and building
1890 Emperor Price for one of his painting of the Vienna "House of the Artists"
1898 - 1909: the "Golden period". use of Gold leaves
1905 increasing recognition and architectural decorations
1908 -1910: many exhibitions all over Europe
1917 Onorary memebr of the Vienna and Münich Academie
1916 Died on 6 February from a stroke probably aggravated by a pneumonia from the Spanish flu pandemic of that year.
Dictionary of Art and Artists; the Thames and Hudson ed.
Die Grosse Bertelsman Lexikothek