Gustav Klimt was born in Baumgarten, a suburb of Vienna, on July 14, 1862. He grew up in poverty though his father, an engraver of gold and silver by trade, encouraged him to pursue a career in art. His formal artistic training began at Kunstgewerbeschule in Vienna and continued at the Vienna School of Decorative Arts. In 1882, Klimt, his younger brother Ernst, along with fellow student Franz Matsch formed a company of artists. They painted murals as well as traditional paintings for a variety of patrons and managed to earn a considerable income.
In 1893 Klimt and Matsch were commissioned to decorate a hall in the new University of Vienna. As they worked on the commission, a serious rift developed between Klimt & Matsch. It progressed to the point where the two men would not work in the same studio. When Klimt exhibited his painting Philosophy, a controversy was ignited and he was attacked on several fronts. Eighty-seven members of the University publicly protested the painting and petitioned the Ministry of Education to cancel the commission. Karl Kraus, a Viennese journalist, characterized Klimt's handling of the issues inherent in the commission as simple-minded. Other academics found the symbolism too vague, while Catholics took exception to the nudity.
The attack on his art along with the acerbic reception of all modern art led Klimt along with Carl Moll, Josef Engelhart and eight others to leave the Association of Viennese Artists (KÄnstlerhausgenossenschaft) and to form the Secession. The group, whose motto was To every age its art, to art its freedom, promised to exhibit unconventional artists, to bring quality foreign art to Vienna, and to publish a magazine. Over 57,000 visitors attended the first exhibition of foreign work organized by the Secession in 1898. By 1900, the Secession had usurped the KÄnstlerhausgenossenschaft in prestige and influence.
After 1900, Klimt concentrated on portraits and landscapes. During this period, however, he did produce two of his finest murals - The Beethoven Frieze (shown at the Secession gallery in 1902) and decorations for the Palais Stoclet in Brussels (1904-1911). His highly ornamental style with flowing lines, biomorphic forms and brilliantly composed areas of decoration, as exemplified in The Kiss became a trademark of the Secession. Ironically, Klimt himself left the group in 1905, after a disagreement with Josef Hofmann, and continued on his own solitary path.
On January 11, 1918 Klimt suffered a stroke at home in his apartment. He died on February 6th from pneumonia.