Get a Glimpse of the Man Behind ‘The Kiss’

The Klimt Villa offers an insightful glance into the private life of the iconic painter.

“I am convinced that I am not particularly interesting as a person.” The celebrated Gustav Klimt may not have thought too highly of himself, but a century after his demise, the world remains utterly fascinated by the Jugendstil icon and creator of The Kiss. Dismissive of public interest, Klimt advised anyone curious about him to just “look carefully at [his] pictures,” but if you’d like a more personal glimpse, you’ll find one at the Klimt Villa, the artist’s final studio and the only one open to visitors today.

It’s easy to see why the introverted Klimt chose to seclude himself here: Hietzing’s upscale Unter Sankt Veit is a quiet suburban area far from the madding crowd of inner Vienna. In fact, his protégé, Egon Schiele, followed him there: He lived only a few blocks away on Hietzinger Hauptstraße.

Concealed today between a hairdresser and a supermarket, the Klimt Villa is a hidden gem: surrounded by a beautiful garden where several cats roam, it radiates history and tranquility. When the artist moved in in 1911, it was little more than a garden house; converted into a two-story villa in 1923, its interior was left mostly intact. Renovated and reopened in 2012, it welcomes visitors from March through December and provides plenty of English information.

A self-proclaimed “museum in progress,” the villa has reproduced the artist’s residence in detail using replicas – meaning visitors can roam around freely without worrying about destroying priceless artifacts. The period photos that were used to recreate the interiors hang proudly in their respective rooms, proving that while the colors might be slightly off, things are very much the way they were.

Where the Magic Happened

The reception or Japanese Room is stuffed with colorful, primarily East Asian pictures, prints and objects, influences that directly informed the artist’s own work. The black-and-white chairs on either side of the small table were designed by fellow Secessionist Josef Hoffmann, and look strikingly uncomfortable. “It is very likely that these chairs were designed in this way to discourage visitors and keep them around as short as possible,” director Baris Alakus explains, alluding to one of Klimt’s apparent traits: He did not seem to like people very much.

Judging from the Rosenzimmer (Rose Room), he preferred nature, at least later in his life. His famous “Golden Phase” and his stint leading the Secession were in the past: while some of his contemporaries produced increasingly provocative work, Klimt chose a softer, decorative expressionist approach. His Fruit Orchard with Roses is exemplary of his later style –placed across from the Rosenzimmer’s window, you need only look over your shoulder to see the 110-year-old rose bush that served as inspiration.

We move into the inner sanctum: Klimt’s studio, a spacious room that feels the most personal by far. “In this room, the light stays more or less the same throughout the day, so it’s the only logical choice for the studio,” Alakus explains. Hinting that it might have been used for more than just art, he draws attention to the unusually large bed in the corner. On it lies Klimt’s infamous blue smock, designed by lifelong partner Emilie Flöge, allegedly worn for “easy access.” Women were important to Klimt, both on and off the canvas.

Currently hosting an exhibition on lost works and stories, Klimt Lost, the Klimt Villa offers English-language group tours upon request, which make the six rooms really come to life by providing the necessary background. The person behind the painter is, despite Klimt’s own indifference, eternally captivating.

13., Feldmühlgasse 11. Mar-Dec, Thu – Sun & Holidays, 10:00-18:00.

Leave a Comment