Gustav Klimt Death and Life. 1910/1911
Gustav Klimt Death and Life. One of those artworks at the Leopold Museum in Vienna that I would stare for hours. A story that belongs to me, belongs to us and belongs to everyone without any distinction.
The work (1910) is an allegory of the cycle of life and it is divided into two symmetrical parts.
On the left, the figure of skeletal death, dressed in a long dress with crosses and circles, seems to be about to strike, looking for one of the victims.
On the right, a large group of bodies that are knotted: human beings of every generation and gender. At the top a mother with a child, then an elderly woman and a couple in a hug. All these figures are nude or dressed in pieces, coloured pieces that make up the clothes.
They are all tall, calm and relaxed as if they did not realize that death is coming from the left. Or as if they turned away to deny it, and this is my favourite version.
The cycle of life made of joyful births, love, youth and seniority can be struck at any time. We have just to wait.
A memento mori, a reminder that death exists and affects everyone, in which however it seems to be the life with its colours to triumph.
The picture with its penetrating and gaudy colours has been defined by Klimt himself as his most important figurative work. And he had indeed won a prize in Rome for the International Art Exhibition of 1911 for this reason.
“Who wants to know more about the artist, the only one worth knowing, must look at my paintings, finding out who I am and what I want.”
Gustav Klimt Death and Life, 1910/1911, oil on canvas, 180×200 cm, Leopold Museum, Vienna (public domain)