Gustav Klimt’s Golden (Crocodile) Tears

Gustav Klimt was a world-renowned artist born in Vienna, Austria, in 1862. Klimt was best known for his figural works of the female form, most often exhibiting nudity or eroticism, and for incorporating gold leaf into his artwork between 1901 and 1909, a period known as his ‘Golden Phase’. Klimt had a long and successful career before he passed away at the age of 55, an early victim of the 1918 influenza pandemic, commonly known as the Spanish Flu.
After embarking on his professional artist training through a scholarship to Vienna School of Arts and Crafts in 1876, Klimt began his professional career in 1880 when he formed the ‘Company of Artists’ with his brother, Ernst, and their friend, Franz Matsch. The trio was commissioned to paint many public murals across Vienna. While these large-scale, public paintings were initially rendered in an academic style and featured classical subject matter, many of them foreshadowed Klimt's future prominent role in the Vienna Secessionist Movement - and the subsequent shift into his avant-garde Golden Phase.
Throughout his long career, Klimt engaged with a variety of different subjects and styles. By the time of his death his portfolio included academic paintings, life drawings, still landscapes, and even decorative art objects. But he is most well-known for the collection of glistening, gilded works he produced during his Golden Phase.
This is perhaps why, when French artist Anne-Marie Zilberman set out to create her own masterpiece in the style of Klimt, her emulation of his most iconic style became quickly and erroneously believed to be a work of his very own.
That’s right. Even though the gorgeous gilded Golden Tears, also known as ‘Freya’s Tears’, is most often attributed to Gustav Klimt, it was actually painted much more recently, by contemporary artist Zilberman. Zilberman used gold leaf to create her own piece of artwork heavily influenced by Klimt’s Golden Phase, but now the painting is more often sold under Klimt’s name than her own.
Among Klimt’s actual portfolio, some of the most famous works from his Golden Phase include his depiction of himself and lifelong friend and partner, Emilie Louise Flöge, in The Kiss, and his swirling, cascading portrayal of the Tree of Life, a common archetype found across many of the world’s cultures and religions.