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The Women Behind Gustav Klimt's Success: Wealth, Power, and Beauty

Updated: Apr 19, 2023

Gustav Klimt, the Austrian painter and decorator, is known for his contributions to Viennese Art Nouveau and Secession. However, many are unaware of the crucial role that women played in Klimt's success.

"All art is erotic" - Gustav Klimt

The Wives of Wealthy Patrons: Behind the Scenes of Klimt's Success

At the beginning of the twentieth century, Gustav Klimt's art was claimed by the wealthiest and most influential members of Austrian society. Often overlooked, however, is the fact that behind many of these patrons of the arts were their wives, who often played an important role in ensuring Klimt's success.

Among Klimt's art admirers was Emilia Flöge, the artist's companion and muse, who was a talented fashion designer who created many of the outfits for his models.

Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I, 1907 by Gustav Klimt
Courtesy of

Of course, Flöge was not the only woman who supported Klimt's art. Adele Bloch-Bauer, the wife of wealthy industrialist Ferdinand Bloch-Bauer, was the subject of two of Klimt's most famous paintings, including the iconic Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer, which sold for a record $135 million in 2006.

Adele was not only Klimt's patroness, but also his friend and confidant, and it is believed that their relationship served as a particular source of inspiration for his work.

Klimt's Fascination with Women: How Freudian Theories Influenced His Artistic Vision

Gustav Klimt portrait
Courtesy of

Throughout his life, Klimt was known for his close relationships with women, both in his personal life and in his art. He had several affairs with his models and female patrons, and his paintings often touched on themes of eroticism and sensuality.

His fascination with the female form was undoubtedly influenced by the work of Sigmund Freud, whom Klimt admired and whose theories on sexuality and the unconscious influenced the shape of his art.

"I have never painted a self-portrait. I am less interested in myself as a subject for a painting than I am in other people, above all women... There is nothing special about me. I am a painter who paints day after day from morning to night... Who ever wants to know something about me... ought to look carefully at my pictures". - Gustav Klimt

Klimt's Legacy: Enduring Fascination and Value, Thanks to Women's Patronage

Klimt's unconventional lifestyle and artistic vision made him a cultural icon of his time. He became the father of at least fourteen children, many of whom were born out of wedlock. Despite the controversy and scandal that sometimes surrounded his art, Klimt continued to produce innovative artwork throughout his career.

After Klimt's death in 1918, his artworks continued to sell with steady success, only increasing in value over time. So did the scandals associated with his artwork. In 2003, the world art market was rocked by a high-profile lawsuit over Klimt's paintings. U.S. citizen Maria Altman sued the Republic of Austria to return five paintings by Klimt, including the iconic “Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I.” This event received unprecedented publicity, and Altman eventually won the right to remove the paintings from Austria. “Golden Adele”, which is considered one of the most significant works of the artist of his “golden period” was the most expensive painting sold at auction in 2006 to American businessman Ronald Lauder.

Thus, it must be emphasized that it was the support of the wives of wealthy Jewish patrons that was a crucial factor in Klimt's success. These women provided him with the financial resources necessary to create his artworks, as well as the emotional and intellectual inspiration that fueled his work. Without their patronage, Klimt may not have been able to produce the bold, unconventional works that continue to delight audiences today. The legal battle over Klimt's paintings in 2003 is just one example of the enduring fascination and value of his artwork.

What do you think would have happened to Klimt's legacy without the support of these influential women?

1. Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I, 1907 by Gustav Klimt

Canvas, oil. 136 × 138 cm

Sotheby's, New York. 2006

Price: $135,000,000

2. Water Serpents II, 1904–1907,

Canvas, oil. 80 × 145 cm

Price: In 2013, Yves Bouvier sold a painting to Dmitry Rybolovlev, one of the largest private art collectors in the world, for $183.3 million, making a profit of $75 million. However, Bouvier tricked Rybololev by concealing that he owned the painting and had paid $112 million for it. He made it seem like the painting was still owned by a third party and convinced Rybolovlev that it was worth much more than $112 million. Eventually, the deceit was uncovered, and Rybolovlev, along with other victims of Bouvier's tricks, pursued legal action against him. The litigation was ongoing as of 2019. In 2015, Rybolovlev sold the painting for $170 million to an undisclosed buyer, rumored to be a Qatari Princess or Asian buyer.


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