Gustav Klimt, the greatest master of Vienna Secession is known for his golden paintings full of fantastic creatures, rich ornaments and beautiful women (who are often naked). But Klimt had also another, less known side called the Waldschrat–someone who lives in the woods on his own. From 1901 to 1904 Klimt completed several paintings of different woods which sometimes are half-abstract, sometimes realistic, but always they are breathtaking.
During Klimt’s summer retreat in Litzlberg on Lake Attersee, Klimt started his days at 6 o’clock making long strolls in the woods. The effects of these walks are amazing: the artist must have felt comfortable in the middle of nature. Here he chose to paint a calm autumnal scene rather than the mysterious, dark heart of the forest.
The artist painted birch forests a couple of times. Young birches were a popular motif for painters as they symbolized the season of spring and the rapid growth of young people (symbolism which perfectly fitted the ideology of the Secessionists). Klimt himself was around 40 when he created these paintings–maybe it was a fruit of nostalgic remembrance of the artist’s youth?
For his tree paintings Klimt often chose square canvas—a pure geometric shape that was also one of Vienna Secession’s dominant decorative motif. In the flowering branches each dab of paint indicates a single leaf, a blossoming flower, or a piece of fruit. The flat flickering field of color evokes both postimpressionist painting and Byzantine mosaics where the forest, or a single tree crown, is similar to a precious carpet. It is a perfect whole.Klimt continued to add the dabs to the Pear Tree even after giving it to Emilie Flöge, his muse and possibly a mistress, in 1903.
What’s is also characteristic for Klimt’s tree scenes is that we never see the sky. It is only suggested through tiny gaps in the upper parts of the paintings.
This green horror vacui is a natural consequence of Klimt’s interest in ornament and rhythm. At this point of his career Klimt had steered away from his gold phase and was influenced by Impressionism and Neo-Impressionism, as many of his colleges at the time showed. But in Klimt’s pieces we don’t sense the stiffness of Signac and Seurat’s pieces–Klimt had added depth to the landscape within the painting by using vertical brush strokes.
In this painting Klimt shows us a fragmentary view of the Schlosspark of Kammer on Lake Attersee. It is very abstract, only the tree trunks in the lower part of the painting give us the hint that the green mosaic above are the tree crowns. Above it we see only a sea of dabs.
When I look at all these beautiful paintings of trees, parks, woods I ask myself one question – was Klimt a treehugger?
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