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Gustav Klimt (1862 – 1918), preeminent master of the Vienna Secession movement, is famous for his unabashedly erotic paintings which swirl with sensual languor and with dark Freudian symbolism–however there was a completely different side to the stormy and controversial fin-de-siecle painter. Beginning in the last decade of the 19th century, Klimt took an annual holiday to lovely Lake Attersee in the picturesque Austrian mountains. While there, Klimt painted lovely landscape paintings quite different in theme from his usual studio works. As opposed to the seductresses, maidens, and goddesses which characterize his most famous and controversial artwork, the Attersee paintings emphasize the beauty and serenity of deciduous trees. Using pointillistic brushstokes and bright delicate colors Klimt crafted nature paintings which were both realistic and yet brimmed with abstruse energy. Although the trees and country landscape exist in coherent spatial perspective, the impressionist brushstrokes and emphasis on color effectively flatten the tree dimensional vistas into a single plain of writhing color. Perhaps more than his figure paintings, the Attersee works prefigure the turn to abstract expressionism which was to mark the later 20th century.
Because it is spring, (and thanks to Ferrebeekeeper’s enduring obsession with trees), I have picked out three lovely paintings of trees by Klimt to showcase in this post. Unfortunately it is difficult to blow the images up to a proper viewing size, but even in the small digital images, one can see that the surprisingly realistic landscapes dissolve into myriad constellations of glowing dots and writhing dashes. Each leaf and branch and blossom has its own plastic beauty which together form a strange lovely impression quite alien and apart from the pretty countryside. The spermazoid drip shapes and rough dollops of color make it seems almost as though the atomic structure of the trees is being demonstrated.