In the life and career of Austrian Symbolist painter Gustav Klimt, the artistic period now known as his Golden Phase coincided with a golden period in Klimt’s personal and professional life. His Golden Phase can be said to have begun in 1898 with the creation of his painting Pallas Athene followed by 1901’s Judith I, and it was to last for just over a decade until 1911. Many Klimt oil paintings stemming from this period featured prominent use of gold leaf and classic examples of this such as Portrait Of Adele Bloch-Bauer I from 1907 and The Kiss, also from 1907, marked a high point in his oeuvre.

Klimt’s exposure to gold began at an early age as the son of Ernst Klimt, a gold engraver from Bohemia. Despite his profession, Ernst Klimt and his family lived in poverty for most of Gustav’s childhood, with work being hard to come by for German migrants in Austria at the time. Whether his father’s profession had any influence over Klimt’s extensive use of gold in his later compositions is a matter of debate. Probably a stronger influencing factor was his interest as an adult in ancient Roman art and design that may have inspired the use of gold leaf and Eastern imagery seen in much of his subsequent work.

Although Klimt didn’t travel widely, his trips to Venice and Ravenna in Italy helped to expose him to the beautiful mosaics in both towns, which, as with many pieces of Roman art, were an eclectic mixture of styles from various corners of the Empire. Klimt’s oil paintings from his Golden Phase feature a diverse and unique blend of Egyptian, Classical Greek, Minoan, Byzantine and even Japanese artistic and cultural influences, and the way in which he was able to combine these and produce a coherent canvas highlights his artistic maturity during this time.

Klimt had been a Symbolist painter for some time but his work during the Golden Phase showed a greater degree of integration of symbolic elements into his compositions and demonstrated his ease in conveying themes of sexual attraction, female domination, and emasculation. While earlier work had been labelled as pornographic or just downright disturbing, in the early 1900s Klimt began to experience a level of critical and commercial success that had hitherto been unknown to him.

Along with his oil paintings, one of Klimt’s major achievements during the Golden Phase was his contribution to the Stoclet Palace in Brussels. It was the home of a wealthy Belgian Industrialist that was constructed between 1905 and 1911, and Klimt along with other leading lights in the Art Nouveau age, collaborated on mosaic friezes and decorative work. Klimt later said that the project was, “probably the ultimate stage of my development of ornament”, and the building survives as one of the grandest monuments of the Art Nouveau era.

Work from the Golden Phase continues to be among the most popular, iconic and commercially successful from Klimt’s career, and in 2006 his 1907 canvas, Portrait Of Adele Bloch-Bauer I became the third most expensive painting in history, selling for a huge $135 million.