The Lush Solace of Gustav Klimt’s Landscapes

Gustave Klimt, Park at Kammer Castle, 1909.

Gustave Klimt, Park at Kammer Castle, 1909.
Neue Galerie New York
Gustave Klimt, Park at Kammer Castle, 1909.
In an exhibition at the Neue Galerie, the artist’s pastoral scenes exude the same life and emotion as his portraits.

In an exhibition at the Neue Galerie, the artist’s pastoral scenes exude the same life and emotion as his portraits.

Neue Galerie New York

Heinrich Böhler, Gustav Klimt and Emilie Flöge, 1909.

Klimt used his summers as an opportunity to explore artistically.

 

Gustav Klimt (1862-1918) is remembered as one of the foremost Symbolist painters of Austria, renowned for his swirling, gold-leaf portraits of women that epitomize sensuality and mystique. Less known for his landscapes today, Klimt was dedicated to the genre for years, often spending his summer holidays in the countryside painting the rural terrain he inhabited. In looking at these works in "Klimt Landscapes," the latest exhibition at New York’s Neue Galerie, one can see how Klimt’s portraiture practice intertwines with his landscapes, as the same life and emotion evident in his portraits are echoed—and even multiplied—in his pastoral scenes.

In a 1901 note to his companion and muse, Emilie Flöge, Klimt writes, “It is terrible, awful here in Vienna, everything parched, hot, dreadful, all this work on top of it, the ‘bustle’—I long to be gone like never before.” And off he went to Attersee, one of the largest lakes in the Salzkammergut region near Salzburg, where the artist would spend each summer accompanied by his avant-garde artistic circle.

© Museum Folkwang, Essen

Heinrich Kuehn, Meadow, 1898.

Participating in Sommerfrische—a summer holiday by city folk spent in the countryside—Klimt used his summers as an opportunity to explore artistically. Away from his quotidian life and financial pressures, Klimt paused his painstakingly detailed portraits of Vienna’s female elite and ventured outdoors. He painted en plein air and depicted vividly green parks, fruiting trees, and houses covered with ivy, among other bucolic scenes.

Without classical training in painting landscapes, Klimt depicted the rolling hills and sunlit trees with abandon (and without first creating studies), trying new techniques freely, and directly onto the canvas. Park at Kammer Castle (1909) exemplifies this experimentation. The trees, though all uniform shapes created through pointillistic dots, are individualized through their cool or warm coloring, whereas the lake—painted without a touch of blue—is built out of longer brush strokes of pastel greens and yellows. The only clear tree branch is a gray and brown spindly line that forms on the right side of the canvas. But this is enough for the eye to detect that we are in a woodland lake scene.

The lush landscapes inspired a sort of solace for the artist. From 1914 to 1916, Klimt and Flöge spent their summers together in the more remote village of Weissenbach, where they rented the so-called Forester’s House. The pair had little interaction with the locals and isolated themselves in this house and the landscape surrounding it. During this time, Klimt completed two major works of the Forester’s House. In these works, the landscape seems to engulf a cottage through the lush ivy that covers the majority of the architecture. Open windows with colorful wooden frames interrupt the ivy, but on their windowsills, one finds even more flowers, with bouquets of roses, peonies, and tulips.

Gustav Klimt, Forester’s House in Weissenbach II (Garden), 1914,
Photo: Hulya Kolabas

Gustav Klimt, Forester’s House in Weissenbach II (Garden), 1914.

Gustav Klimt, Reproduction of Sunflower, 1907-08.
Neue Galerie New York

Gustav Klimt, Reproduction of Sunflower, 1907-08.

Gustav Klimt, Park at Kammer Castle, 1909.
Neue Galerie New York

Gustav Klimt, Park at Kammer Castle, 1909.

Gustav Klimt, The Large Poplar I, 1900.
Neue Galerie New York

Gustav Klimt, The Large Poplar I, 1900.

Gustav Klimt, Pear Tree (Pear Trees), 1903.
Harvard Art Museums / Busch-Reisinger Museum, Gift of Otto Kallir

Gustav Klimt, Pear Tree (Pear Trees), 1903.

Gustav Klimt, Two Girls with Oleander, ca. 1890–92,
Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art, Hartford, CT

Gustav Klimt, Two Girls with Oleander, ca. 1890–92.

Gustav Klimt, Fable, 1883.
Photo: Birgit and Peter Kainz, Wien Museum

Gustav Klimt, Fable, 1883.

Gustav Klimt, Idyll, 1884.
Photo: Birgit and Peter Kainz, Wien Museum

Gustav Klimt, Idyll, 1884.

Emma Bacher-Teschner (Née Paulick), Gustav Klimt in a row boat in front of the Villa Paulick,  1909.
Neue Galerie New York

Emma Bacher-Teschner (Née Paulick), Gustav Klimt in a row boat in front of the Villa Paulick, 1909.

Moriz Nähr, Gustav Klimt in the garden of his studio at Josefstädter Strasse 21, 1911.
Neue Galerie New York

Moriz Nähr, Gustav Klimt in the garden of his studio at Josefstädter Strasse 21, 1911.

Klimt was frequently photographed during his Sommerfrische by friends and professionals, most notably Emma Bacher-Teschner, Madame d’Ora, Antios, and Fritz Walker. In the gallery across from his paintings are photographs of the artist as he poses alone in his signature robe, with his cat, or alongside Flöge and their friends as they take strolls on dirt roads, sit on patches of grass, or go boating.

Photo: Hulya Kolabas

Josef Hoffmann, Tobacco case acquired by Otto Primavesi, 1912.

In addition to being photographed, the modern photography of Klimt’s day played a large role in these works. Klimt’s social circle overlapped with the Vienna Camera Club, a group that was influenced by the French Impressionists. Klimt’s exposure to their work—softer and more colorful photographs of the landscape—influenced his paintings deeply. In a small theater in the exhibition are some of these photographs, including Heinrich Kuehn’s Meadow (1898), a sepia-toned landscape filled with grass, trees, and sky. The influence of the Camera Club on Klimt is clear in works such as The Large Poplar (1900), where the landscape becomes more impressionistic and fuzzy.

While on his Sommerfrische holidays, Klimt would gift Flöge with jewelry from the Wiener Werkstätte (Vienna Workshop). Many of these pieces are on view, alongside Flöge’s own fashion designs. Even more, viewers can see these jewels on Flöge through the photographs of the model, which, as the wall text suggests, “may be viewed as among the first documented fashion shoots of a ‘super model’ by a ‘celebrity artist.’”

The Wiener Werkstätte was an influential design movement founded in 1903 by architect Josef Hoffmann and artist Koloman Moser. The design style was characterized by a commitment to craftsmanship, geometric abstraction, and a rejection of historical revivalism. Among the jewels is an especially intricate tobacco case from 1912, designed by Hoffmann. The solid gold case is adorned with stones such as amber, garnet, lapis lazuli, tourmaline, and turquoise arranged in Mondrian-style geometric sections.

In delving into Klimt's landscapes, one witnesses not only his artistic experimentation but also the profound solace they provided him amid the urban chaos. These pastoral scenes, captured with newfound freedom and inspired by his Sommerfrische, reveal a symbiotic relationship between Klimt's portraiture and his communion with nature, enriching our understanding of his multifaceted artistic vision and the profound influence of his surroundings on his work.

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