The Painted Kiss

A Novel

The Painted Kiss

Gustav Klimt, one of the great painters of fin de siècle Austria—and the subject of Helen Mirren’s latest film, Woman in Gold—takes center stage in this passionate and atmospheric debut novel, which reimagines the tumultuous relationship between the Viennese painter and Emilie Flöge, the woman who posed for his masterpiece The Kiss, and whose name he uttered with his dying breath.

Vienna in 1886 was a city of elegant cafés, grand opera houses, and a thriving and adventurous artistic community. It is here where the twelve-year-old Emilie meets the controversial libertine and painter. Hired by her bourgeois father for basic drawing lessons, Klimt introduces Emilie to a subculture of dissolute artists, wanton models, and decadent patrons that both terrifies and inspires her. The Painted Kiss follows Emilie as she blossoms from a naïve young girl to one of Europe's most exclusive couturiers—and Klimt's most beloved model and mistress. A provocative love story that brings to life Vienna's cultural milieu, The Painted Kiss is as compelling as a work by Klimt himself.
  • Washington Square Press | 
  • 288 pages | 
  • ISBN 9780743492614 | 
  • March 2006
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Reading Group Guide

1) Discuss the experience of reading a novel that explores the lives of historical persons. In what way is it different from reading a wholly fictional story? What, if anything, did you know of the artist Gustav Klimt before reading this book? Did the story contradict or expand on anything you knew? Did the character you grew to know in this story surprise you?
2) This story is told during two different periods of time in Emilie Fl_ge's life: the late 1800's the mid 1900's. Why do you think the author choose to tell it in this way? What kind of perspective do we gain from the older, wiser Emilie, who is portrayed against the backdrop of WWII? How might this novel have been different had it unfolded in a more linear fashion?
3) Emilie has been raised in a world where outward appearance means everything. Taught from an early age that women, especially, should be more concerned with how they present themselves than with how they feel or what they think, her relationship with Gustav is iconoclastic for her. Not only is he interested by her innermost thoughts and feelings, but he shows little interest in the world of polite society. Talk about what Gustav symbolizes for the young girl. In what ways does he challenge the reigning views of this particular time in history? How does his role as artist allow him to do so?
4) Gustav and Emilie share similar artistic temperaments. While Emilie's salon, even very early on, is a ragin see more

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About the Author

Elizabeth Hickey
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Elizabeth Hickey

Elizabeth Hickey is the author of The Painted Kiss. She earned an MFA from Columbia University and lives in Portland, Oregon, with her husband and son.