Klimt was born in Baumgarten, close to Vienna in Austria-Hungary. During the 19th century and early 20th century he was one of Europe's most prominent artists.

In 1897 he co-founded the Vienna Secession, which he was part of until 1908. The group brought both foreign artists' works and works which explored art outside of traditional conventions to Vienna. The group included a variety of artists including Naturalists, Realists, and Symbolists.

The symbol for the Secession was the Greek goddess Athena, who Klimt famously painted his interpretation of in 1898.

Klimt's career hit its peak in 1899-1910, the period which was known as his 'Golden Phase.' Klimt's 1898 portrayal of Athena saw the artist begin to use gold leaf, which he went on to feature more heavily in his works during his 'Golden Phase.' Perhaps his most recognised works from this time are the Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I, 1907 and The Kiss, 1907-1908. Klimt travelled to Venice and Ravenna where he saw mosaics which had an influence on the way in which he used gold leaf and Byzantine imagery.

Klimt's work was an important influence on his younger contemporary Egon Schiele.

In his later life, Klimt won first prize at the world exhibitions in Rome for his Death and Life work. He passed away in 1918, leaving many of his works unfinished.