Klimt was born in Baumgarten, near Vienna in Austria-Hungary  and during the 19th century and early 20th century was one of Europe's most important artists.

He was one of the founding members of the Vienna Secession, which began in 1897. He was part of the group until 1908. The group served to bring both foreign artists' works and works which explored art outside of tradition to Vienna. All styles of works were present in the group, including Naturalists, Realists, and Symbolists. The symbol for the Secession was the Greek goddess Athena, who Klimt famously painted his unconventional interpretation of in 1898.

Klimt enjoyed the fruits of his success in the period between 1899-1910. This time was known as his 'Golden Phase' for which he received the most critical acclaim. In his 1898 version of Athena, Klimt began to use gold leaf, which during the 'Golden Phase' he used more prominently. His most recognisable works from this period include the Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I, 1907 and The Kiss, 1907-1908. His travels to Venice and Ravenna and seeing theses cities' rich mosaics 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.