Triumph of beauty

Art Nouveau

ca. 1890–1910

Art Nouveau: Gustav Klimt on the path to modernity

The 1890s mark the close of a dynamic, productive century in Europe. The Franco-German War in the 1870s was followed by a long period of peace, which fostered an economic and cultural upswing. In 1896, the first Olympic Games of modern times are held in Athens. With the second wave of the industrial revolution, affordable mass-produced goods fill the stores – which at the same time has a detrimental impact on the sale of handcrafted goods.

Art Nouveau artists oppose the mass trend; they value and strive for individuality. They want art to be everywhere, combine function and aesthetics and celebrate nature with its uniqueness and sweeping forms. In addition to paintings from personalities such as Gustav Klimt, Franz von Stuck and Alfons Mucha, interior design during this period is new and unique. With elaborate decorations, natural motifs and floral elements, art celebrates its entry into everyday life.

At the end of the 19th century, many artists turned away from traditional art ideals and sought modernity in beauty and originality, inspired by the shapes and colors of nature. Among the most famous people in this movement are Alfons Mucha and Gustav Klimt. The latter founded the Vienna Secession art movement in 1897 and became an icon of Art Nouveau, which was the most important style of the movement. He focuses on beauty and femininity in his work. He is especially well-known for his “Golden Phase”, in which he surrounds his models with richly decorated decorations and ornaments. The highlight of this phase is his most famous painting “The Kiss”.

Wolfgang Beltracchi malt Gustav Klimt
In preliminary studies, Wolfgang works on Gustav Klimt’s facial expression in his Swiss studio.
Gustav Klimt did not attach any importance to his own life and death in his paintings. In his works he rather strived for a timeless representation of his profound motifs. Death, in several of his paintings, thus also appears as the inevitable last instance of life – without, however, frightening the individual human being. Despite his strong position in the Vienna Secession, he emancipates himself from the rejection of historicism and naturalism. His artistic voice develops further, motifs gain depth, surfaces are filled with a restless brushwork and short strokes. Shapes such as flowers and houses are bordered by dark, mostly black, lines. Klimt sets out to redefine his artistic voice, to develop himself as an artist, and at the end of his life is about to break through to modernity. If death hadn’t taken him at the age of 55, confrontation with his own self would have been a logical step in his development. Wolfgang Beltracchi takes the step in his work. See below how the painting is created.
Wolfgang und Helene Beltracchi

Developing the artistic voice of Gustav Klimt – Wolfgang and Helene Beltracchi research for the painting “Charon”.

Beltracchis Studie von Gustav Klimt

In his preliminary studies Wolfgang Beltracchi deals intensively with Gustav Klimt’s facial expressions and the question of how he would have seen himself in the face of his approaching death.

Beltracchi arbeitet am Gemälde
The artist works on the mirror image of the unfinished painting “The Bride”. To the right next to it is a preliminary sketch of “Lady With Fan”. He later replaced this motif with the ferryman Charon.
Wolfgang Beltracchi im Atelier

Vivid colors and strong contrasts – Wolfgang Beltracchi beings applying paint to his work “Charon”.

Art Nouveau

Gustav Klimt, Alfons Mucha and Franz von Stuck shaped the Art Nouveau movement in different ways. Their various techniques and approaches show that Art Nouveau does not specify a uniform style. The essence of the movement lies in the common belief of the importance of individuals.


The German name for the movement – “Jugendstil” – refers to the cultural magazine “Jugend” for young people, which presented art movements that contradicted the prevailing historicism of the time. In addition to other movements such as Impressionism, it paid particular attention to Art Nouveau. Outside of Germany, the names “Secessionstil” and “Art Nouveau” were also used for the movement. Various styles of Art Nouveau developed in different countries depending on their cultural background.


In addition to painting, Art Nouveau also influenced architecture, furniture production and handicrafts. The combination of aesthetics and functionality suddenly took center stage.


Art Nouveau is characterized by floral decorations with dynamic lines that have their own unique symmetry. Alfons Mucha, a Czech painter and graphic artist, is still the most renowned representative of this form of Art Nouveau to this day.


From artists’ workshops to art academies up to artists’ groups: Art Nouveau was the first time that an increasing number of artist groups emerged, separating themselves from existing institutions, among them the Munich Secession (1892) and the Vienna Secession (1897).


In Art Nouveau, entire exhibitions were arranged as overall concepts. The Beethoven exhibition at the Vienna Secession in 1902 is an example of this: works by 20 artists were arranged around the Beethoven statue by Max Klinger as a “Gesamtkunstwerk” (total artwork).

Eras of art in the KAIROS project

 Roman art

Byzantine icon painting

    Medieval art

    Early Netherlandish painting

    Italian Renaissance

German Renaissance


    Early Baroque

Little Ice Age

Dutch Golden Age


German Romanticism 

English Romanticism




Art Nouveau




New Objectivity


Diversity of styles