Max Klinger is one of the most influential German Symbolist artists during the late 19th century and early 20th century. His work formed a link between the Symbolists and the Surrealists, which had great effect on artists who followed after him. Klinger was talented at writing, printmaking, sculpture and painting; as a young man he began his art career in the 1880s by making sculptures.
He was born on February 18, 1857 in Leipzig, Germany, and began his art education at the Grand Ducal Baden Art School in the city of Karlsruhe in 1874. He only stayed there a year before enrolling at the Berlin Royal Academy of Art, where his teacher was Karl Gussow. Klinger received an exceptional evaluation when he finished his studies at the Academy, as well as a silver medal for his work. He went on to participate in the 52nd Academy Exhibition in Berlin in 1878, that being the first time that he had shown his art work publicly. In 1879 he chose to continue his studies in Brussels with Belgian painter, Emile Charles Wauters, and in 1880 he created his series Eve and the Future (Opus III).
Klinger’s most famous work is a series of etchings, ten in all, which were based on a dream that he’d had of finding a lost glove. Much was discussed about this set of works, especially the symbolism of the glove and the faceless woman that he searched for, as the owner of the glove. The title of the series is Paraphrases About the Finding of a Glove, which he completed in 1881.
After leaving Brussels he had moved back to Berlin and opened his own studio there, where he was commissioned by Julius Albers, a young lawyer in the Superior Court of Justice in Berlin. Albers had a vestibule in his villa which he wanted decorated with sculptures, murals and other paintings. It was the largest commission Klinger had received, and he began working on it in 1883.
At the end of 1883 Klinger decided to acquire a studio in Paris, but most of the next decade would find him traveling extensively throughout Europe. He stayed in all the major cities where art was significant, so that he could study multiple art forms and artists according to their regions. In a brief stop back in Berlin in 1887 he met Arnold Böcklin, and finally in 1893 he returned to his hometown of Leipzig, a successful and prolific artist.
Klinger was a very versatile artist, but sculpture came to appeal to him even more after 1897, and in that form he continued to excel in his creations. His most controversial sculpture was the Beethoven monument, which he exhibited in public in 1902 for the first time, at the Vienna Secession. It was controversial because he portrayed Beethoven as a mythical god, bare chested and elaborately throned, with the symbols of godhood around him.
While living in Leipzig he became a member of the Munich Academy, the Vienna Secession and he was given the position of a professor in the Royal Academy of the Graphic Arts. He began the organization called the Villa Romana, which was a villa in Florence that he purchased in 1905 fo 60,000 gold liras. It became a place for 3 to 5 artists, especially those of German origin, to stay and study each year in Italy, as well as have access to the Villa Romana studio. He arranged the Villa Romana Prize to aid as a scholarship, to fund and support those artists during their stay, whoever won the prize. Klinger was an integral part of the founding of the Association of Annual Leipzig Exhibitions. Max Klinger was also honored with the distinction of becoming a Knight of the Pour le mérite order and an honorary member of the Stockholm Academy.