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Gustav Klimt (July 14, 1862-February 6, 1918) was an Austrian symbolist painter and a formative figure of international Modernism that emerged at the turn of the century. Klimt was also one of the most prominent members of the Vienna Secession, a group that worked to support young, emerging, unconventional artists while claiming no single artistic manifesto or style. Klimt is noted for his paintings, murals, sketches, and other art objects. Though he received public commissions in his early years in Vienna, Klimt's work was met with criticism and rejection. Perceived as pornographic and radical, Klimt's treatment of the female body as his primary subject matter was at times openly erotic, but is now considered masterful. In the first decade of the twentieth century, Klimt entered what is known as his Golden Phase, which was marked by positive critical reaction and success. Many of his paintings from this period (which derived its name from the prominent use of gold leaf in his paintings) are considered beacons of the Art Nouveau period.
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Though the Symbolist movement is primarily known as a literary phenomenon, Gustav Klimt is one of a handful of artists who translated Symbolism into the realm of painting. While the use of symbols within a work of art was by no means a new trend, Klimt and his fellow symbolists subverted the art historical tradition of the use of symbols through their intentions; while in Neo-Classic and Romantic painting, symbols carried a cultural, iconographic signification, the Symbolists used symbols that were intensely personal or quite obscure, often with mythological origins. Water Snakes II, painted in 1907 is a prime example of Klimt’s Symbolist works. Rather than using symbols to render the painting “readable” to its audience, Klimt uses symbols that are simultaneously private and relatable. Klimt’s infusion of a touch of eroticism in his paintings creates a point of contact between the artist and his public. Currently in a privately held collection, Water Snakes II is one of Klimt’s most well-known and best-loved works.