Gustav Klimt (1862 – 1918)

Kweiseye is an art criticism blog written by Tom Kwei. If you enjoy this article, browse the archive HERE for more than 60 other critiques of both artists and exhibitions. Any questions/queries/use: tomkweipoet@gmail.com

As a painter of great delicacy and sexual expression, Gustav Klimt’s more subdued works are often unfairly maligned in favour of his glorious, erotic paeans. The Austrian Symbolist came of age during an era of artistic revival within his native Vienna, a time when the word ‘modernism’ first emerged and the decadent was something outwardly conscious rather than inwardly repressed.

Avenue of Trees, Schloss Kammer (1912)

AMACAARQ-P25975

The swirling, hypnotic painting technique of this piece comes with such a vivid smoothness that it seems as if ‘Avenue of Trees, Schloss Kammer’ is still drying 113 years later. Its layering is both remarkable and believable, the hidden sun above gilding the canopy leaves with a triumphant contrast of colours. Whilst Klimt had painted this summer holiday Salzkammergut home many times before, it was here, through an intelligent, thoughtful application of perspective, that the he really achieves something of note.

At the left the trees come away as individuals, all curving in someway to a collective middle above the tempting path before us. Whilst at the right, the trunks are much closer, leering inward and liquid, suggesting perhaps that this is a turning around a corner rather than straight facing view. The feeling here then is slightly secretive, of something unattainable. A thought propelled further by the mere glimpses Klimt affords us through the branches. Not only is there a path leading to hints of a building on the ground – the door itself tantalisingly leading on further – but higher up, in the reaches of the thatched trees, we see signals to somewhere else altogether, the sky. By mirroring these two pathways, Klimt compounds the sense of being afar from this home, of being held back and stationed as observer.

This matters little however, because beneath these gnarled boughs is really were you want to stay staring. Up top the detail is entrancing, the knotted arms of bark not just behaving as one but blending believable to a thick dense thatching of a healthy, interesting green. The wet oils work well too against the background solidity of the house, creating a formidable sense of wonder and intrigue from what is effectively a commonplace occurrence. It is Klimt’s expressionistic leanings so prominent here that charge the image with an indelible magic.

‘Mermaids’ (1899)

Mermaids

Stripped to their pure fundamentals, these nymphs are less Ariel and more Rene Magritte – see here for an earlier analysis of his disturbing fish-woman hybrid piece, ‘Collective Invention’ . The depth of the ocean is as different too, its fathoms feeling more akin to an unfinished plaster on a wall than the usual bubbling backdrop. Its gasped, scratches of paint, along with the odd scorches of white that fire parallel near the top, pushing our eye forward to the odd, unsettling creatures.

They lurk almost as standing rather than floating and seem to hover up formless, coating the picture with unease. These are not long enticing bodies with piscine leanings then, rather these are abstract shapes to which female faces seem to have emerged as if gathering breath. The two profiles should be commended seperate in their detail, the taller one aloof and looking outward off the canvas to some victim perhaps more important than us, the other more lackadaisical, her coiffed fringe near indistinguishable from its spotted shape.

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