Photo/IllutrationVisitors look at Gustav Klimt’s “The Three Ages of Woman” at the Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum in April. (Asahi Shimbun file photo)

A bearded man with unkempt hair and wearing wrinkled work clothes stared out of a portrait photo of Gustav Klimt (1862-1918) at the Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum.

It was on display as part of the “Gustav Klimt: Vienna-Japan 1900” exhibition, which runs through July 10.

I found it quite hard to reconcile this image with his art, which typically features sensuous women and the liberal use of gold leaf.

“Klimt paid no attention to his personal appearance,” said Akiko Kobayashi, the museum’s curator in charge of this exhibition. “He never married, but his liaisons with women appear to have gone far and wide.”

Numerous women, ranging from well-to-do ladies to young models, frequented this super-famous artist’s workshop. He reportedly was involved in more than 10 paternity scandals.

Klimt rarely spoke about himself, and stayed away almost completely from self-portraits. He painted women in many of his works.

He was quoted as saying, “I am less interested in myself as a subject for a painting than I am in other people, above all women.”

He also famously stated: “Whoever wants to know something about me--as an artist which alone is significant--they should look attentively at my pictures and there seek to recognize what I am and what I want.”

Klimt rebelled from the conservative art community of the late 19th century and developed his own style of portraying people.

He found fame while still young. But his pioneering works--many of which depicted naked bodies in erotic poses--were censored or incurred public outrage from time to time.

For instance, there were three paintings the government commissioned him to create for the ceiling of the hall at the University of Vienna. The completed works, representing the faculties Philosophy, Medicine and Jurisprudence, showed stark-naked men and women, and were denounced as “offensive” and “immoral.”

The paintings were never displayed at the university, and destroyed in a fire during World War II.

Admiring his representative works, such as “Judith I,” “The Three Ages of Woman” and “The Naked Truth,” I let my imagination run wild.

I wondered how many women Klimt painted during his lifetime, and how many passionate romances he had.

--The Asahi Shimbun, June 15

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Vox Populi, Vox Dei is a popular daily column that takes up a wide range of topics, including culture, arts and social trends and developments. Written by veteran Asahi Shimbun writers, the column provides useful perspectives on and insights into contemporary Japan and its culture.