As with many great artists, Klimt was not successful during his lifetime.

His paintings repelled and offended the bourgeoisie in Vienna, a society riven by the fear that overt sexuality led to decadence.

Considered possibly pornographic, Klimt's work was so deeply unpopular, it was doomed to be side-lined after his death. It wasn't until the 1950s, when a new sexual revolution swept the West, that his paintings were rediscovered. He was swiftly propelled to totemic status, one of the most highly regarded artists of the century.

Today, his paintings prominently feature on lists of works which have fetched the highest prices at auction: Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I, 1907, sold for £101.6million in 2006   It is hard to imagine that even the great masterpieces of Picasso and Van Gogh would now be considered more valuable than Klimt's most totemic picture, The Kiss.

Gustav Klimt (1862-1918) was a man who spoke very little about his paintings, simply suggesting that if you wanted to learn about him you could merely look at his work. He did offer one infamous insight: 'All art is erotic.' This viewpoint is particularly apt when studying The Virgins (also referred to as The Maiden), a scene of sexual awakening portrayed as a romantic transition into womanhood.

Despite the young ladies pictured being cloaked in Klimt's signature flowers and vibrant swirls of colour, its sexuality is intended to be overpowering.

He painted The Virgins, which is perhaps his most allegorical painting in 1913, towards the end of his life.

It was the climax of Klimt's preoccupation with female erotic dream states, which he had explored in its various manifestations from virginity to mature sexuality. In the painting the central character sits amongst five other women, forming a cloud-like constellation, seemingly suspended in space, a girlish contemplation of what future awaits her.

The canvas is mostly taken up with the virgin's gown, illustrated with spirals and blossoming flowers indicating fertility, and rounded, undulating shapes synonymous with femininity. Caught unaware, with her eyes closed, the central virgin is the epitome of burgeoning sexuality. Klimt is now regarded as an artist who attempted to stir the emancipation of women. He wanted females to see themselves portrayed as sexual beings for their own pleasure.

Klimt's home life outside of the studio was comparatively straight-laced. He loved cats and lived with his mother and unmarried sister until his death in 1918 at age fifty-five. They doted on him, which perhaps contributed to his lack of any long term relationships – he wasn't willing to sever the maternal bond.

Rather than being frustrated by her affections, Klimt was happy with his role, remaining a fully-grown Peter Pan and content to be 'Little Gustav' at home.

He was a loner in the artistic community. Klimt was a founding member of the Secession movement in 1897, after breaking away from established academies claiming they were too conservative. But he remained cloistered away from café life, not wishing to socialise with other artists, and was soon to drift away from the Secessionists.

Away from home, 'Little Gustav' was no more. His studio was his kingdom, and his daily ritual was to dress in his favourite navy blue smock, wearing nothing underneath, before settling down to work. He didn't paint in isolation – there were regularly several nude young models strewn about the studio, waiting to satisfy his every need, artistic or otherwise.

He had a fierce sexual appetite, surrounding himself with beautiful women, preferably redheads, waiting to be directed, or instructed to hold a certain position if it aroused him artistically. He would make quick sketches of the girls as a break from painting, and amassed a collection into the hundreds.

He never married nor had any desire to have a family, but he did father at least three illegitimate children. After his death a further fourteen women lodged paternity suits against his estate and of them, four were successful.

His paintings were a way of exploring those intimate, romantic themes that Klimt himself must have felt excluded from. While he was clearly a highly eroticised man, he had constantly remained nervous of intimacy.

It is still argued by Klimt's detractors that the emancipation of women was an accidental by-product of his highly erotic objectification of them – using mythology and allegory to thinly disguise the view that women are purely sexual playthings for men.

In Klimt's lifetime the Viennese were, at best, generally baffled by his paintings; the work he produced as a commission for the ceiling of the Great Hall of the University of Vienna was rejected by the patrons. They stated: 'we are not against nakedness in art, we're against ugliness in art,' suggesting that Klimt's works were too realistic for the committee's idealised view of female bodies, and romantic union.

Today of course, the Klimt ceiling would have been the single reason for many thousands each year to pilgrimage to Vienna.

Klimt will almost certainly be most acclaimed in future decades for the paintings he created during his 'Golden Phase'. His work in the early 1900s made extensive use of ornamental gold leaf, reminiscent of Byzantine mosaic in the use of flat planes and two-dimensional perspective.

It is his strikingly emblematic female figures that are considered amongst the greatest paintings of all. Judith (1901), Danae (1907), and The Kiss (1908) are all extraordinarily beautiful, but his most notable work is probably the 1907 painting Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I.

Seized by the Nazis during World War II from the wealthy industrialist who had commissioned the painting of his wife, it was to be finally released from the Austrian State Gallery to the niece of Bloch-Bauer in 2000.

It was Klimt's favourite of his portraits, and he would be pleased that today it is one of the spectacular highlights of any art lover's trip to New York, hanging serenely in the Neue Galerie.