Not long after his return to Vienna, Klimt forged the greatest works of his Golden Phase, and arguably of his entire career: Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I (1907) and The Kiss. Both paintings combine gold and silver leaf with swirling patterning that alludes to vigorous life forces and corporeal curves. As art historian Ludwig Hevesi has written, “Klimt’s ornamentation is the figurative expression of primal matter, which is always, without end, in a state of flux, turning and twisting in spirals, entangling itself, a whirlpool that takes on every shape, zebra stripes flashing like lightning, tongues of flame darting forwards, vine tendrils, smoothly linked chains, flowing veils, tender nets.”
Indeed, with these paintings, Klimt reached the apex of his signature style—a fusion of the linear compositions of
, the organic forms of the
, and his own interest in human passions.
In The Kiss,as in the last phase of the Beethoven Frieze, a man and a woman melt into each other. Their bodies are obscured by a thick gold cloak, but Klimt doesn’t hold back from suggesting what lies underneath. A pattern of erect rectangles covers the man, while concentric circles decorate the woman. Again, their individual forms fuse into a single, phallic column, which is shrouded by an oval, vaginal halo. Bade even goes so far as to describe the flowers that cascade down the woman’s side as “spermatozoa-like ornament,” indicating “that the moment of climactic ecstasy has just passed.” Whether or not Klimt was indeed referencing sperm, this patterning certainly illustrates the moments in his work when “the anatomy of the models becomes ornamentation, and the ornamentation becomes anatomy,” as art historian Alessandra Comini has written.