Art Nouveau

Nature in Art: Gustav Klimt’s Enchanting Depictions of Trees

Zuzanna Stańska 16 July 2023 min Read

Gustav Klimt, the master of the Vienna Secession, is known for his golden paintings full of fantastic creatures, rich ornaments, and beautiful women (who are often naked). However, he also had another, lesser-known side called the Waldschratsomeone 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 they are always breathtaking.

gustav klimt trees paintings Gustav Klimt, Birch Forest, 1903, Oil on canvas, 42 1/4 x 42 1/4 inches, Paul G. Allen Family Collection
Gustav Klimt, Birch Forest, 1903. Paul G. Allen Family Collection.

During his summer retreat in Litzlberg on Lake Attersee, Klimt started his days at 6 o’clock taking long strolls in the woods. The effects of these walks are amazing; the artist must have felt quite comfortable in nature. Here he chose to paint a calm autumnal scene rather than the mysterious, dark heart of the forest.

gustav klimt trees paintings Gustav Klimt Forest of Beech trees 1903
Gustav Klimt, Beech Forest I, 1903, Staatliche Kunstsammlung Dresden, Dresden, Germany.

Klimt painted birch forests a couple of times. Young birches were a popular motif for painters as they symbolize the season of spring and the rapid growth of young people. (a symbolism that 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?

Gustav Klimt tree paintings Gustav Klimt. Spruce Forest II, 1904, private collection
Gustav Klimt, Spruce Forest II, 1904, private collection. Arthive.

For his tree paintings, Klimt often chose square canvases — a pure geometric shape that was also one of Vienna Secession’s dominant decorative motifs. 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 Post-Impressionist 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.

gustav klimt trees paintings Gustav Klimt, Pear Tree, 1903, Harvard Art Museums, © President and Fellows of Harvard College
Gustav Klimt, Pear Tree, 1903, Harvard Art Museums, Cambridge, MA, USA.

What is also characteristic of 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.

gustav klimt trees paintings Gustav Klimt, Rosebushes under the Trees, circa 1905, Musée d'Orsay, Paris, © RMN-Grand Palais (Musée d'Orsay) / Gérard Blot
Gustav Klimt, Rosebushes Under the Trees, c. 1905, Musée d’Orsay, Paris, France.

This green horror vacui is a natural consequence of Klimt’s interest in ornament and rhythm. At this point in his career, he had steered away from his gold phase and was influenced by Impressionism and Neo-Impressionism, as were many of his colleagues at the time. However, in Klimt’s pieces, we don’t sense the stiffness of Signac and Seurat’s pieces – Klimt added depth to the landscape within the painting by using vertical brush strokes.

gustav klimt trees paintings gustav klimt trees painting Gustav Klimt, The Park, 1910 or earlier, The Museum of Modern Art, New York.
Gustav Klimt, The Park, c. 1910, The Museum of Modern Art, New York, NY, USA.

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 represents tree crowns. Above them, we see only a sea of dabs.

When I look at all these beautiful paintings of trees, parks, and woods I ask myself one question – was Klimt a tree hugger?

Get your daily dose of art

Click and follow us on Google News to stay updated all the time


Art Nouveau

Masterpiece Story: The Climax by Aubrey Beardsley

Aubrey Beardsley’s legacy endures, etched into the contours of the Art Nouveau movement. His distinctive style, marked by grotesque imagery and...

Lisa Scalone 22 February 2024

Art Nouveau

Ramón Casas – The Painter of Catalan Modernism

When you think of Catalonia, and especially Barcelona, the first name that comes to mind is, of course, that of Antoni Gaudí, but Catalan art at the...

Joanna Kaszubowska 18 December 2023

Art Nouveau

Carl Strathmann’s Bizarre Cabinet of Art Nouveau Curiosities

Tired of the forever beautification of women in Art Nouveau worlds of flamboyant ornaments and stylized flowers? Then you should be looking at Carl...

Kero Fichter 6 November 2023

Art Nouveau

Alphonse Mucha’s Pan-Slavic Posters

Alphonse Mucha (1860-1939) is the most iconic Art Nouveau artist. His works featuring beautiful women surrounded by nature are still popular today.

Jimena Escoto 16 July 2023