Through The Artist's Eye

Doctors versus artists: Gustav Klimt's Medicine

BMJ 2002; 325 doi: (Published 21 December 2002) Cite this as: BMJ 2002;325:1506
  1. Maria Bitsori, specialist in paediatrics,
  2. Emmanouil Galanakis (, assistant professor
  1. Department of Paediatrics, University of Crete, PO Box 1393, Heraklion 715 00, Greece
  1. Correspondence to: E Galanakis

    Was Gustav Klimt the Damien Hirst of his time? The response that greeted some of his paintings certainly made for instant notoriety

    In 1893 Austria's ministry of culture commissioned the artists Gustav Klimt and Franz Matsch to decorate the Great Hall of the University of Vienna.1 The Habsburg empire had entered its final phase, and Vienna, one of Europe's flourishing cultural and scientific centres, was under liberal rule and experiencing a period of industrial expansion and new ideas that was to become known as the Ringstrasse era.1 Ringstrasse, an imposing avenue, encircled the old centre of Vienna, and grand buildings were erected along it.1

    Summary points

    In 1893 Gustav Klimt was commissioned to decorate the University of Vienna with The Triumph of Light over Darkness, a series of paintings representing the university's faculties

    Medicine was presented in 1901, scandalously focusing on the powerlessness of the art of healing and ignoring achievements in prevention and cure, at a time when Vienna was leading the world in medicine

    The paintings were never fixed to the ceiling of the university's great hall, and in 1943 they were moved for protection to a castle, which was destroyed. All that remains from Medicine are drafts and photographs

    Klimt died in 1918 during the influenza pandemic

    The artist

    Gustav Klimt was the second of seven children born to a family of gold engravers who had immigrated to Vienna from Bohemia. In 1876, at the age of 14, he was admitted with distinction to the Kunstgewerbeschule, the public school of arts and crafts. Gustav, his younger brother Ernst, and their friend Franz Matsch were held in high regard by their teachers, who often recommended them for paid work outside the school.2 The three young artists were soon involved in the ambitious Ringstrasse project, decorating the grand …

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