Along with the portraits of society women and the allegories, landscape painting is the third great thematic axis in Klimt's work.
Throughout his career, Klimt paints more than fifty landscapes. He devotes himself to this theme during the summer months, which he spends with Emilie Flöge on Lake Attersee in the Austrian Alps. In Klimt’s later years, landscape paintings are one of his subjects of choice.
This doesn’t make sense. Back up in ‘At a Glance’ it says: He has given us approximately 230 paintings and 4,000 sketches of allegory, women and landscape.
But, you are saying here that he paints more than 500 landscapes alone. Numbers don’t add up.
The atmosphere in Klimt’s landscapes is an intimate one; his style goes against the grain of the imposing and grandiose landscapes in vogue in the first half of the 19th Century. Klimt’s first landscapes do not hold a trace of human life, they are predominantly views of lakes and forests. Subsequently, orchards, allotments or fragments of architecture appear, but still no sign of a person.
Klimt loves the outdoors. He is attentive to the flora, even when he’s in Vienna, in which a letter he writes to Emilie in 1909 attests: “Today, walking down the garden path, the scent of Spring - birdsong - flowers budding - but only a little - in defiance of the Winter atmosphere. How everything can change in a day!”
Before beginning a landscape, Klimt scrutinises nature, armed with his “viewfinder”: “With my viewfinder - a hole cut into a piece of cardboard - I looked for motifs to paint in my landscapes and I found much...”. Later, as he writes to his sister Hermine, he uses opera glasses to serve the same purpose: “Arrived safe and sound. I forgot my opera glasses - I am in great need of them. Helene will bring them. Best wishes, Gustav”.
Through using the glasses or “viewfinder” Klimt develops new skills. They allow him to isolate a specific detail of his environment. They afford him a unique perspective. A recurring characteristic in his landscapes, for example, is the remarkably high horizon (After the Rain, Farm House with Birches, and even The Painting of Lake Attersee, which was described, by art critic Hevesi, as “A frame full of lake water”). Whether it is a (very) close-up or a panoramic painting, Klimt still has a proclivity for the square canvas, which for him evokes fulfilment.
Klimt deconstructs nature in order to reconstruct it on the canvas, at the risk of upsetting the natural order. In Rosebushes Under the Trees, both the rose bushes and the apple trees are in bloom at the same time, meaning the seasons coincide. As well as this, the time of day is generally ambiguous in Klimt's landscapes, a contrast to the style of the impressionists.
Klimt’s style of landscape painting evolves over the years. In 1900, in The Painting of Lake Attersee, the mystery of the seemingly infinite water is somewhat reminiscent of the Symbolism of Khnopff. In Large Poplar II, the tree, sombre at a glance, is in fact composed of a multitude of dashes of color, or “blotches... Like those of a trout” according to Hevesi, echoing the pointillist technique of Theo van Rysselberghe. A significant change takes place around 1909, when his use of color becomes much more expressive: in Avenue of Schloss Kammer Park, he outlines the tree branches in black, while tones of blue, yellow and red juxtapose to form the bark on the tree trunk. In 1912, with Apple Tree I, Klimt presents one of his most color rich landscapes to date, before opting that is, in his later years, to saturate his paintings in color.