Gustav Klimt

9 September 2016

His works were broadly criticised for their fantastical imagery and their bold, decorative style; seen most prominently in pieces such as The Kiss (1907-08) which displays frank eroticism. Whilst Klimt is most prolific in his pieces portraying women, he began focusing on landscapes in the late 1890’s

Gustav Klimt’s work has been described by critics as seeking a form of ‘elsewhere’ and a desire for distance; his isolation is perhaps explained by the crumbling Habsburg monarch and First World War occurring during this time, although WW1 itself did not commence until 1914. He spent his summers in the picturesque Salzkammergut, just outside Salzburg, where he was able to spend days painting landscapes from direct observation.

Gustav Klimt Essay Example

Gustav Klimt’s father Ernst died shortly before he began focusing solely on landscapes, and the family became financially dependant on him, which helps to explain his desire for escapism. Klimt produced ‘Farmhouse with Birch Trees (young birches)’ in 1900 using oil paint on a 31. 5” x 31. 9” canvas. His work was based on light, openness and patterns of nature, rather than the formal, linear qualities of the narrative, mythology work he had previously produced.

He was strongly interested in nature and had wider concerns with biological growth and the cycle of life, which is increasingly apparent in his work. Klimt’s knowledge of impressionism and neo- impressionism acquired in art school made the techniques used in ‘Farmhouse with Birch Trees’ possible, though the strokes are quite different. It was his intention to reflect the infinite multitude of life in his brushstrokes- their gestures, shapes and colours, which serves to explain the subtleties within this piece.

The lilac blue’s and deep greens protrude the background at all different angles- their spontaneity truly depicts nature. Pale pink, yellow and oranges bring depth to the painting, particularly in the foreground where the detail is more prominent. Gustav Klimt appreciated the beauty of nature and did not wish to falsify it. The rich hues and fine detail of the foreground depicts a place bustling with life; a lively painting that is contrasted with a blurring, smooth painting technique used in the background, portraying a calm mood towards the upper half of the painting.

This contrast provides a sense of distance and vast space within the standard size and square format used by Gustav Klimt. The dark trees along the horizon are followed by increasing size of grass and flowers using a loose almost impressionist technique, creating a complicated perspective of depth. Four slightly curved tree trunks organise the space within the painting, manipulating the composition. These too decline in contrast and detail as they regress into the background. The light tone of the birch trees brings contrast to the high saturation and vibrant colours of the ground.

These tree trunks are very slender and graceful, especially in comparison to the pillar-like tree trunks Klimt began portraying in pieces such as Beech Forest I in 1902, and Birch Forest in 1903. It is clear to see from the detail in the texture and colours that Gustav Klimt had a strong interest in the trees, and a wide knowledge of them. What is incredibly inspiring about Gustav Klimt’s paintings is his ability to use unpredictable hues to add finer details which have been added in layers, in a period of concentration from dusk till dawn.

Pale pinks and grey-blues subtly intensify trees, and yellows, blues and oranges bring texture to leafy trees; in places where we do not expect to see such colours. Klimt illustrates texture by alternately manipulating his brushstroke. In ‘ Farmhouse with Birch Trees’ he has added fine rapid flicks of the paintbrush for areas of grass, concentrated circular flowers, loose relaxed brushstrokes on the left of the painting, and abstract blended tones with no definition.

This texture is vital for Klimt’s work to successfully reflect the landscape as he saw it, and displays a different perspective to the viewer- what is all too often seen as simply land or plants, is a place of countless creatures and life, who push, drive, and torment, restlessly and rapidly develop, and decay, in a time without beginning and end: with nothing persistent except matter and the recurrence of the same, differing organic forms. Whilst Gustav Klimt began all painting from direct observation, he frequently took work back to his studio, to complete with the aid of photographs and postcards.

This is probably how he managed to achieve wonderful layered details. In later works, Klimt began to rely heavily on outlines- not only of the clusters of grass, but outlining trees and, post 1908 architecture also. It may have been in response to Schopenhauer’s conundrum, an attempt to regain control on natural chaos. His background knowledge and fascination in nature evidently affected his ability to perceive the landscapes, and influenced the way in which he wished to portray the life in them.

When architecture became prominent in his landscapes, he stopped using viewfinders to seclude an area for painting, and progressed to use a telescope, opera glasses, and even telephoto camera lenses. This allowed him to focus equally on places in the distance as those nearer to where he sat. This is a stark contrast to his previous landscape work where distance brings depth and contrast to his work, and instead brings to his own experience what otherwise would be out of reach. It is certainly less gentle and more heavily defined than ‘Farmhouse with Birch Trees’.

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