Is Klimt’s ‘The Kiss’ Even Romantic?

I used to think this iconic Gustav Klimt painting (‘The Kiss’) was the epitome of romance – so much so that as a teenage uni student on a miniscule budget I went to enormous lengths to acquire a gilt-framed print version.

It was the Eighties, Neptune was in Capricorn and I entered into a laborious lay-by arrangement with a high-on-hair-mousse foo-foo art shop owner who ran pyramid schemes on the side. She charged “in lieu of interest fee” fees and levied fines for late lay-by installments. I never knew her zodiac sign but she was like the human prototype for Afterpay.

Anyway, I finally got the The Kiss and hung it above my bed (with questionable Feng Shui impact, frankly) until the print was stolen by my lower Aquarian flatmate when she moved out. An avid philosopher, the Aqua said that art should be accessible and monogamy was theft. Yes, she took my boyfriend but I was more upset about the print.

Now I wonder how it could have enchanted me the way it did. The woman looks, at the very least, bored – right? And the man is enveloping her in a style that seems cloying. Is she disengaging or have I become cynical? I was at peak oestrogen when I got the print, rose-quartz ultra-Venusian vision set to max.

The original painting was ‘born’ with Pluto in Gemini at a degree that squares (aka activates, provokes) my natal Venus. Outer planets influence culture over decades or centuries: think about the eras that that thrill or intrigue you the most.

Gustav Klimt – a double Cancerian (Mercury Retro + the Sun) with Mars-Neptune conjunct in Aries – painted the original in 1907. Transit Pluto was hammering his hefty Venus-Lilith-Uranus in Gemini and later, in hindsight, people called it his “Golden Period.”

He went nuts for the Byzantine era, notably the Emperess Theodora, put gold leaf on everything, attained significant commercial success and perfected his “Bohemian love” branding.

Or, as Sothebys delicately puts it:

“He took pains to keep his affairs discreet and avoid personal scandal; as a result, the extent of his relationships with his female sitters, many of them wealthy society women, has been the subject of much speculation amongst historians. However, it is widely accepted that his studio, where he often painted in a billowing caftan with nothing underneath, served as the site for numerous liaisons.”

Continued…

People generally say that The Kiss represents the fusion of spiritual and sexual love or intense sensual pleasure and often compare the “yang” robes of the man to the woman’s more swirly “yin” deal.

“The Kiss depicts an embracing couple kneeling in a grassy patch of wildflowers. Clad in a geometrically-printed robe and with a crown of vines on his head, the man cradles the woman’s face as he leans in to kiss her. The female figure—whose colorful, organically patterned dress contrasts her partner’s garment—wears flowers in her hair. As she wraps her arms around her partner’s neck, her eyes are peacefully closed, emphasizing the tranquility and intimacy of the scene.”

My Modern Met

I never parsed the laurel wreath when I had this image on my bedroom wall but now I think okay, does it mean that the dude is Dionysus, the god of wine and pagan pleasures?

That resonates. It’s easy to imagine the kaftan-clad, cat-draped Klimt strolling around the studio spilling wine from a golden goblet, talking about the spirals and lapis-lazuli in Minoan frescoes, building up to the bit where everyone (queens, maids, goddesses etc) has their boobs out: “Decadence was just a daily habit then…”

A more melancholy interpretation from some art historians is that the wreath makes the man Orpheus, who went to Pluto’s underworld to retrieve his lover Eurydice but lost her at the last moment because he looked back.

Klimt did, after all, paint it during a Pluto transit to his natal Venus and despite perpetual speculation, nobody actually knows who the woman or the model for The Kiss was.

The Cuban poet Dionisio Martinez – a Sun-Mercury conjunct Aries – wrote a devastatingly brilliant poem called Gustav Klimt: The Kiss.

Oddly enough, his take resonates with what I see in this painting now – he cuts through all the gold flakes and swirls, ignores the wildflowers and more or less voices the womanizer.

The poem is too long to copy in full here but it includes –

“The trick is how to say it.

Or how not to say it. Or how to walk

casually to the door, leaving the keys

on the table in the living room

on the way out…

“Ultimately we can only trust our doubts.

I wrap this heavy quilt around us.

I say what I think you want to believe…”

“…I beg you to close your eyes

and trust me, and hope that you don’t.”

Now probably priceless but not for sale anyway, The Kiss is permanently displayed in Vienna and the poster version has become ubiquitous.

It’s the highest selling art print in the world – masstige to the max – and the most widely distributed depiction of ‘romance’ but is it romantic? I think it’s got weird energy to it but it’s perfectly likely I was soured by the grifting.

And now I suspect if Gustav was hanging around my daughter or one of her friends, I’d shoo him away. Or suggest he transition into cat portraits, which he would clearly have excelled at.

Thoughts?

45 thoughts on “Is Klimt’s ‘The Kiss’ Even Romantic?”

  1. Maybe someone in the thread already pointed this out but it looks to me like she’s been backed up to the edge of a cliff, symbolic of women’s position in western society at the time. I, too, adored this image in my teens and twenties. But, alas, fell prey to feminist thought and the fending off of predatory men. Now, it is linking to the litany of films reeking of romanticized misogyny a la Lars Von Trier, Pedro Almodovar and even the recent Poor Things where Men of Arts display their artistically envisioned love/hate of women’s sexuality, power, vulnerability and their wish to control, exploit and possess women’s bodies and shun/fantasize their personhood. While Bella Baxter remains unfettered by shame and establishes her personhood, she must bear the slur of “whore” and depend on her creator for access to all she desires.

  2. Wow! Just wow!

    About 5 years ago I fell in with a beautiful Italian man whose Pluto was conjunct my Venus – yep, it was intense. He loved this painting, it was the screensaver on his phone. I was never sure about it; to me the woman looks like she’s being controlled, enveloped in a somewhat awkward position with no way to escape.

    That poem excerpt that you shared, Mystic, perfectly describes the unraveling of my ‘Italian affair’. I still bear the scars.

  3. Having a Neptune dominant chart and a butt load of Cancer (Mercury, Venus, Saturn) I am inclined to be thinking, yes is romantic!
    J’adore! I prefer some level of enmeshing that is borderline codependent in my monogamous relationships with men. Built that way.
    I also think that we channel information and that as I get older, I am not so interested in the artist as the art. Maybe that is not great.
    But I will watch the Purple Rose of Cairo and ignore Woody’s involvement. Just like I will watch most Hollyweird movies, many of which are directed by and acted in by awful people.
    Interestingly, oestrogen administration elevates cortisol levels in men and women alike and may be just a stress hormone afterall! The lush and femme
    qualities are apparently provided by progesterone, rather than oestrogen. So, maybe peak progesterone is where you were at, though ultimately, maybe now I am thinking Cancer would rule progesterone in medical astrology, so where do you have progesterone/Cancer in your chart could be key, lol.
    I love Klimpt’s patterns, colours, wildflowers and gilding probably more than his composition or figures. He is a mood!

    1. sphinx. I had forgotten (/not realised?) That you were sun Venus cancer. (+Saturn). I seem to have more Cancerian person energy in my life lately so that’s been a challenge for my radically independent everything. Your personal insight is helpful so thank you

  4. And here’s my outlier two cents worth … I believe that the woman in the painting is real, or at least refers to Emilie Flöge, who is a very interesting person in her own right. Her fashion sense was waaaaaay ahead of its time. https://www.thecollector.com/gustav-klimt-muse-emilie-floge/
    The painting was a regarded as pornographic scandal during the Victorian time of it’s creation, and it seems to me that the porny vibes stil resonate a century later, which is interesting! Painting is so psychological – for the painter, the subject, and the audience. In real life, the painting is a huge canvas, measuring 6 feet by 6 feet, and the figures are life size. I think the experience of the painting would be very different in person, as opposed seeing it on a grubby coffee cup or a tattered and faded poster.

  5. MoonstoneMagnolia

    As they say, “All that glitters, is not gold”. Thank you for the illuminating backstory Mystic.

    Interesting as the leaves turn gold and fall in my garden, crunching under my feet, reminding me of the best birthday party as a child. A room full of autumnal leaves and bare feet savouring the sounds and textures. Squeals of delight, still love the sound of softness of the gold. Not so much the painting, confined, no exit.

  6. Maybe its the venus saturn speaking but its 16 hour a day job these days to keep my nervous system online when, inevitably, the “this doesnt feel good” comes up and I’m 6, 14, 32, 50 and theres some dude just existing being a simian nightmare with paint in his hair talking about somethingn smelling of clove cigarettes, dirt, cigarettes and somehow, from nowhere rational i was supposed to listen, frozen.

    They cant find me now. Thats the best i can do. You couldnt pay me to go in a museum or even go to a poetry reading or concert at this point.

    Ive seen too much.its trees and stars now. Gilt or no gilt it gives me emo- hives.

    1. I am curious as to why you included poetry readings. as my pending doctotal thesis covers the stage vs. page poetry scuffle. I ran an open mic for 3 years starting in lockdown and have now been surprised snd saddened to hear that some of my cis-het semi-regulars were predatory …one having finally sctually been charged with class A stalking and harrassment…apparently one victim.he met at MY show. obviously it’s hard to keep tabs in a lockdown where everyone is anxious to connect online but our show was fiercely a queer safe space. so what is it about live shows that tepels you? IF you have time to answer of course i would be really grateful!

      1. There’s always that element. I’ll blame my virgo ascendant for attracting it but as the “sensitive poet types” reach middle age and started to find my social media inbox there’s an element where my fury at the Bardic traditions lead me to consider this a great deal.

        There just aren’t a lot of well balanced poets and musicians out there. It’s a sweeping generalization and I can maybe be caustic about it, but for the sake of this, I suppose I gave them credit for thinking, for examining and finding a way to channel their efforts. But as I look back it was “this is a different way to observe and make up stories about others. This allows me to have power and be on stage. Poet preacher politician. The imbalances and the romanticizing of muses. There’s no difference.

        I’m not saying I’ve figured out the way to be a perfect human but the creep is a creep whether he’s in a uniform, a suit or recently published a chapbook. The ooets are just more likely to have read the works of other poets and authors and honestly it’s cheat codes passed down for generations. Don’t get me started on actual touring musicians.

        If you get to a guy’s apartment and his library is heavy on the bukowski, maybe leave. Immediately. No he won’t hit you but you will end up with tracking devices on your car.

        It’s anecdotal and yet it feels like a million year old story. I don’t even like writing myself anymore as it’s just me putting ideas given to me by men who hated me into a blender and speaking in a way that inevitably creates the same dissonance. *cue my mercury saturn neptune tsquare negativity* saturn is coming up on my mercury and I’m in chiron town these days.

        I’m sure light will return but even typing this I’m thinking of skeezy male astrologers telling me this 8th house business would make me a great sex therapist.

        So this is looking like a me thing. And honestly It was hard to lose the love I felt back then until I realized I was just trained to unconditionally accept roles that made everyone involved freeze in time.

        Gosh. Ok. Jeep having poetry readings because it’ll inevitably be words that break down the old words and build new ones.

  7. Mystic, your weird experience with the poster theft resonated for two reasons. One is a friend from uni who was so into this artist; and her sexual identity eventually seemed like a giant narcissistic reflection pond of dark beneath the gold surface.
    The other is remembering an article during the exhibition in London:
    https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2023/oct/30/reassessing-gustav-klimt-the-kiss-film
    It brought back memories of my once-friend. And our uni days…so much unpacking of what our yearnings drew into our orbit. We thought we were fearless, adventurous. And we were. But years later i shivered, seeing it all differently. You wonder whether the oblivious predators and thieves ever have a personal reckoning.

  8. The painting was used for the cover of The Art of Sexual Ecstasy by Margot Anand.
    I see above it was also on cover of Venus in Furs. Had that book in the 60’s was banned i believe, had to read it with a brown paper cover over it :-).

  9. One of Klimit’s other paintings (still in Bohemian Gold – my enchantment at a similar age @Mystic ) adorns the Penguin re-edition cover of Leoplod van Sacher-Masoch’s book Venus in Furs (https://www.penguin.com.au/books/venus-in-furs-9780140447811) … a novel which provides a different take on both Klimit’s work and the broader movement’s perspectives – see the Vienna Succession Art/Literature/Psycho-Analysis movement for a rabbit-hole adventure 🙂

  10. To me it looks like the woman is in search of oblivion and the man is very willing to offer it to her, like a fix of heroin… Very appealing to some the Neptune in Scorpio generation, losing yourself in an erotic / narcotic haze… There is an unhealthy deal going on, he’s offering her the fix in exchange for power over her.

    1. PS It’s amazing how your view on art and music changes once you are far past ‘peak oestrogen’, thank you for pointing that out, Mystic!

      1. Yeah, that mirrors how I see that painting, Calcifer. Sure looks like an unhealthy power dynamic to me.

      1. Hi Sam, maybe my interpretation of the painting was a bit harsh. Am very much a part of the Neptune in Scorpio generation and my view comes from personal experience (not from using drugs, but certainly from using love as one). Astrologer Liz Greene wrote about Neptune as causing a longing for a ‘Liebestod’ (death through love, figuratively speaking) in her book about Neptune, ‘The Astrological Neptune and the Quest for Redemption’. That is what the Klimt painting emanates for me, a ‘Liebestod’ vibe 🌌

      2. Oh I didn’t see it as harsh at all, I was more reflecting on my lilac wine tendencies, which tend to get bombastic side-eye from my Aries, aqua and Capricorn planets collectively, ‘helpfully’ supported by my Gemini / sadge angles So yeah it’s fun in here lol. But, yes I dont quite go down the Neptune in Scorpio abyss. Am a Neptune in sadge type. Moon Pluto delivered a liebestod experience though. Lol. Love makes stupid morons of us all . I reckon

      3. Thank you v much for the additional insights though. Appreciate this. I wish I wasn’t so reactionary (sometimes)

      4. Thank you to for your additional insights, Sam! And Neptune in Sagittarius is a lovely, glamorous placing! I say this as a Sagittarius who experienced the whole Neptune through Sagittarius transit as a child in the 1970’s. I love 1970’s music and people born in the 1970s 😉

      5. … And sorry to hear you had to go through that Pluto transit across your Moon and that it was a ‘love death’ experience. Hope it brought you some clarity too and that you are better now…

    2. That sounds right. Apparently the painting was finished/born in 1908, the Chinese Year of the Monkey. And seeing as the art doesnt have a birth month, that Chinese Astro could be an influence… It is a antagonistic piece considering how it was received, which vibes Monkey.

  11. Early 20s this hung in my bedroom with my first long term partner – It always felt suffocating the relationship, the painting – as the woman who would be overpowered by someone she trusts enough to get close but he always wanted more than she was willing to give. It is in no way romantic to me although I like the style. Where is her power in it? She’s at the edge of a cliff it seems too.

    It creeps me out.

    1. Similar sentiments. I like the gold and his choice of textures, patterns etc but I certainly never experienced it as a big romantic statement. To me that would be the painting equivalent of PDA. Like, I’d feel a bit voyeuristic.

      Imho any analysis of a Great White Male Painter that attempts to place their work as some kind of vital, seminal (pun intended) statement in the canon of Romance / or that makes the work About Women (rather than solely about how the artist views women) makes me feel a bit queasy.

  12. “The Kiss” was visiting a gallery near where I live once (I was there for the Schieles, which had traveled there too–I was deep in grief, and some philosopher made a joke about how that is the appropriate time to “enjoy” Schiele, lol!). I was surprised to see it. It’s beautiful, it was behind glass and much larger than I thought it would be. The glitter/glimmer of it is so much more apparent in person–Neptunian to me! Downstairs they had a print of it with a selfie wall, of course, and I took one–I don’t like it now.

    That POEM! Thank you for sharing it, and this reflection. Your writing is always both funny and moving.

  13. OMG Jinx – I had this in a frame on layby also and my print had gold leaf on it – threw it out after breaking up with husband – when newly in love we had given each other cards with it on – and also travelled to Vienna during our honeymoon especially to see the real thing which is so fucking magnificent in person I hated the cards and the print there after. My ex had dark curled hair so could not bear to see it for years. I remember when I found out he was having an affair I said, ” You’d better not have shared any of our poems or Klimt with her. He guiltily said, “You don’t own Klimt and I knew the sneaky fuq has stolen the artist, I shared with him first and given her a card or something to be impressive.” As soon as I got back to Australia and all the shared stuff was unpacked I threw out all the Klimt.

    Years later in love with a new man we just stumbled on “The Woman in Gold” in New York near the Guggenheim – my new love did not know Klimt (how I don’t know) but loved the painting and sometimes we still talk about it.

  14. Unicorn Sparkles

    Used to love this. Then I realised that the ornate glitz was to hide the power imbalance between the man and woman.
    Perhaps it’s projection but I see naivety/youth being smothered by an overbearing, perhaps older or less innocent partner. Because we don’t see his face…and he’s so much bigger…I don’t know. Age and experience changes how we see…

  15. It captivated my interest once & i had a print of it, however I had a nightmare of it as being vampiric & rid myself of it immediately. All that glitters gold is distraction from danger.

    1. As a DV survivor of a Libra with a proclivity for strangling, that’s all I see there. Unique to my own life experience, perhaps, but still. Heebeejeebees.

      1. I understand although I rather wish I didn’t. Once you see it you can’t unsee it. And I recently heard a similar reference in an Elvis song, no less: one line in the lyrics of one of the most widely played songs in history. Is this a Jupiter approaching Algol theme?

  16. i DID love this print and had it above my bed until this January just gone, when i was forced to move.
    I don’t think it does have good dengue shui actually, i think you’re right Mystic
    I will have to find sthing else to put above my bed in the meantime….at the moment i have a greetings card of two mandarin ducks in my relationship corner lol
    Hope springs eternal
    I love the gold in it too…aah metallics…

  17. Have two Klimt prints above my toilet – bought in Vienna. Bad Fengshui? 😬 I just like the goldenness, which is funny because the rest of my house is a Virgoan nature retreat. Interesting article. Fired so many neurons. Sorry for (maybe not too big of a) loss of the Aqua friend, boyfriend and the print. None of them were worth it.

    1. A bit like “If you loan someone $20 and you never see them again, it was probably worth it.”
      Sister- in-law and brother-in-law had it on their wedding cake, bit tacky. I do like some of Klimt work mainly the abstract patterns. I find the story of the portraits of Adele Bloch-Bauer being found in an attic somewhere and valued at some multimillion extravagance bizarre. History of Nazi pilfering included in there some where. So all round bad juju if you ask me.

  18. You were enchanted because you were young. And how many of us didn’t want to be swept off our feet by a swooning kiss?!
    The kiss with Generation X eyes looks controlling and cloying and her face has look of disinterested submission like “whatever.”
    I don’t know how many famous pieces of art I now look at with different eyes and realise it’s most of the artists unconscious issues on canvas.

  19. I was a Klimt fan at high school and based my final piece of my art qualification on Klimt’s Judith and the Head of Holofernes. A self portrait version.
    I’ve no idea about the story behind this one but I will be researching shortly.
    The Kiss always looked to me like it wasn’t an even match between the couple, almost as if he’s overpowering/devouring her.
    I definitely preferred, and do now, the images of his that were just a single person/portrait. Many of them seem much more powerful and the kiss seems to take the power away.

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