The Kiss. Two figures enclosed within the golden folds of each other, in this simple composition of a passionate embrace. This is a painting that evokes the most personal and powerful element of man, his love for another. Yet, to argue that this is all ‘The Kiss’ reveals would be to underestimate the intelligence of it’s creator, Gustav Klimt. Rather, Klimt hoped to symbolise not only the power of love, but also the way that this power can go so far as to consume the identities of the individuals under its hold.
Astounding in it’s golden hues, Klimt’s use of gold leaf in the creation of this masterpiece reflects the relations of its subject matter; lovers. Inspired by the golden mosaics Klimt had witnessed upon a trip to Italy in 1903, the painter used extensive amounts of gold and silver leaf to add dimension to his work (amounting to his ‘Golden Period’), a skill cultivated beautifully in ‘The Kiss’. The two figures depicted are shrouded in the substance, a visual representation of the emotions conveyed. The meadow floor dully shimmers around the couple, further intensifying their embrace to the viewer.
However, most gripping about the painting is not its golden glory but rather the subtle details Klimt includes. Notice how the woman’s eyes are closed within the arms of her lover, willingly submitting herself to him. Although some have been tempted to argue that while the man is lost in the kiss, the woman is aloof from it (as demonstrated in the way that she turns her head), this is misguided. For example, both of her hands embrace him, one around the neck and other on top of his own hand. Such a gesture can surely not be seen as synonymous with disinterest? Rather, Klimt’s depiction of a kiss on the cheek, rather than a kiss on the mouth, makes the image all the more gentle, and with it, powerful. It is also worth noting the contrast between the two figures; while the man’s golden cloak (in its stark black and white) connotes factual knowledge, the woman’s attire clearly evokes femininity with the flowers that swamp it.
Despite this contrast, notice how both figures are ultimately cloaked in the same garment, which spreads from the man and under the woman’s hair. Klimt is highlighting that although different, there is balanced connection between these two figures, forming their dual essence. This dual essence ultimately consumes their individual identities. This is instinctively visible through the way in which the eye is drawn to the two figures as a collective entity, rather than as two seperate individuals. Indeed, only the heads and hands of the individuals are visible while the rest of the painting is shared between them both.
In this way, ‘The Kiss’ highlights the extent to which, in love, two people assume the identities of each other. Rather than being something to lament, this loss of self gives rise to a mass of flowers and gold. Both figures submit themselves to their embrace (physically highlighted in their kneeling position), distancing themselves from the real world. Yet, in this distance, Klimt only draws us all in further. In this visual explosion of physical and mental love, Gustav Klimt depicts our willingness to give ourselves to another, all in the name of a kiss.