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Death and Life, 1910/11, reworked in 1912/13 and 1915/16

Leopold Museum,
Oil on canvas
180.8×200.6 cm


  • Gustav Klimt

    (Baumgarten near Vienna/Vienna 1862–1918 Vienna)

Currently on display at OG4
At 180 x 200 cm, Gustav Klimt’s (1862–1918) allegorical work is the second-largest surviving painting by the master. First drafts on paper were created from 1908 and Klimt began executing the idea in oil in 1910, when he was 48 years old. When the work was first presented at the International Art Exhibition in Rome in 1911, under its initial title Death, it earned Klimt a gold medal. It was exhibited as Death and Love in Dresden in 1912 and subsequently as Death and Life in Budapest (1913), Mannheim (1913), Prague (1914), Berlin (1916), Stockholm (1917) and Copenhagen (1917/18). Despite its great success, Klimt was never fully satisfied with the work and reworked it several times (1912/13 and 1916/17). This is also evidenced by traces of paint on the original frame, which is exhibited at the Leopold Museum. Klimt’s allegory shows death as a solitary figure on the left, a hunchbacked skeleton shrouded in a cloak of black crosses. Opposite, on the right, the phases of life seem to blend into a single colorful, richly ornamented oval, which includes an amorous couple, a mother with an infant in her arms and an old woman. While the first version depicts death as an introverted and dignified figure, bowing its haloed head, the final version shows death lurking with a malicious grin on its face, raising a small cudgel and preparing to strike. Its gaze falls on the girl on the left edge of the oval, her eyes wide with terror and her hands raised to her chest in a gesture of fear – unnoticed by the remaining figures who are levitating in a dream-like state and refusing to open their eyes to the inevitable.

A closer look

The artwork explained by
art expert Stefan Kutzenberger


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Object data

  • Gustav Klimt
Death and Life
1910/11, reworked in 1912/13 and 1915/16
Art movement
Symbolism, Art Nouveau
Oil on canvas
180.8×200.6 cm
Signed lower left: GUSTAV KLIMT
Credit line
Leopold Museum, Vienna, Inv. 630
Inventory access
Contributed to the Leopold Museum-Privatstiftung in 1994
Selection of Reference works
  • 20 Jahre Leopold Museum 2001-2021, hrsg. von Hans-Peter Wipplinger, Wien 2021.
  • Wien 1900. Aufbruch in die Moderne, hrsg. von Hans-Peter Wipplinger, Wien 2019 (Ausst.-Kat. Leopold Museum, Wien, ab 15.03.2019).
  • Verborgene Schätze. Kunstwerke suchen Paten!, hrsg. von Hans-Peter Wipplinger, Wien 2016 (Ausst.-Broschüre Leopold Museum, Wien, 29.01.2016–22.02.2016).
  • Trotzdem Kunst! Österreich 1914-1918, hrsg. von Elisabeth Leopold/Ivan Ristić u.a., Wien 2014 (Ausst-Kat. Leopold Museum, Wien, 09.05.2014-15.09.2014).
  • Klimt persönlich. Bilder - Briefe - Einblicke, hrsg. von Tobias G. Natter/Franz Smola, Wien 2012 (Ausst.-Kat. Leopold Museum, Wien, 24.02.2012–27.08.2012).
  • Tobias Natter: Gustav Klimt. Sämtliche Gemälde, Köln 2012.
  • Wien 1900. Sammlung Leopold, hrsg. von Diethard Leopold/Peter Weinhäupl, Wien u.a. 2009.
  • Alfred Weidinger/Michaela Seiser u.a.: Gustav Klimt, München u.a. 2007.
  • Fritz Novotny/Johannes Dobai: Gustav Klimt, Salzburg 1967.
Catalogue raisonne
  • Natter 2012: 193
  • Weidinger/Seiser/Winkler 2007: 206
  • Novotny/Dobai 1967: 183
Conservation patron
Klimt-Foundation, Vienna

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Provenance research
Leopold Museum i

Nachlass Gustav Klimt, Wien (1918);
Hans Böhler, Wien (nach 1918); (1)

Ab 1943 in einem Bergungsort der Städtischen Sammlungen deponiert (2)

Marietta Preleuthner, Wien (vor 1958-1978); (3)
Dr. Rudolf Leopold, Wien (1978-1994); (4)
Leopold Museum-Privatstiftung, Wien (1994).

  1. Michael Wladika, Gustav Klimt. Tod und Leben, Dossier vom 13.04.2016, S. 13.
  2. Archiv der Österreichischen Galerie Belvedere, Schreiben der Direktion der Österreichischen Galerie an Dr. Ing. Otto Böhler vom 16.08.1943.
  3. Tobias G. Natter / Elisabeth Leopold (Hrsg.), Gustav Klimt. Die Sammlung im Leopold Museum, Ostfildern 2013, S. 216, G8
  4. Archiv des Leopold Museums, Kaufvertrag und Überweisungsquittung vom 17.01.1978
Decision of the Advisory Board (PDF)

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