Klimt's Forest Paintings in Litzlberg
Gustav Klimt (1862-1918) was an Austrian painter, representative of the Vienna Secession. He’s known for his way of reinventing allegorical and symbolist imagery, he was also an iconic decorator of Viennese Art Nouveau. He is mainly known for his paintings of the golden cycle such as Judith and The Head of Holofernes (1901), or The Kiss (1908). He painted fantastic characters, dressed in golden clothes with geometric shapes, inspired by Byzantine iconographic representations made in mosaics. The artist also made ceramics, mosaics, litographs, drew a lot and painted a certain amount of landscapes. The forest paintings were realized by Klimt at the beginning of the 20th century, when his career marked a turning point.
The forests of Litzlberg
Since the end of the 19th century, the painter has spent all his summers in Litzlberg near the Attersee lake in Upper Austria. He would spend up to six months there, producing about fifty paintings, inspired by nature, trees and the changing seasons. Klimt was a very routine artist. He got up every morning at 6 o’clock to walk through the forests around him. Very quickly, he acquired the reputation of being a man of the woods, because of his shaggy attitude and his continuous presence in the forests. He earned the nickname of Waldschrat (“forest demon”). His long walks between the trees inspired him a lot. During this period Klimt painted the forest in different styles. Sometimes very detailed, sometimes more abstract, he played with light, nuances, and contrasts. The forest landscapes painted by Klimt were sometimes influenced by pointillism, other times by impressionism, depending on the energy he wanted to transmit, but also on the period he painted.
The evolution of forest painting in Klimt's work
It is interesting to note that the first compilation of tree paintings is concentrated between 1901 and 1904. Either at the beginning of his gold phase. However, the exercise of landscape paintings is different. Most of them are in square formats, as for many artists of the Vienna Secession. His early paintings have very contrasting colors, and the trees are in a realistic style, very detailed. Most of them are birch forests during autumn, when the leaves that fall are glowing red, almost golden. Borrowing from the realistic style, his colour palette is marked by its parallel production and gold phase. The other paintings belong more to Impressionism, the focus is different and the colours are lighter, less contrasted. They move away from his gold phase but are closer to the production of other artists of the time. Thereafter he painted many landscapes in pointillism style. In these paintings, dominated by shades of green, there are many fruit trees, whose fruits stand out as patches of colour. Klimt always gave a lot of meaning to fruit in his work, mainly apples.
Klimt’s forest paintings alternated styles, colours, size and number of trees for almost 20 years. Even after the end of his golden phase and the end of the Secession, he refined his style, discovering in Paris painters like Toulouse Lautrec, the Fauvism movement and its precursors, which continued to influence his landscapes and trees until his death. His way of painting nature is like a temporal frieze of the time and of the many artistic movements that inspired him.