Everybody knows about Gustav Klimt’s women, not the least of which is his dazzling 1907 gold-on-gold portrait, Adele Bloch-Bauer I. It sold in 2006 for $US135 million — the highest price ever paid at auction. But something else about Klimt’s work might interest you: For many of his landscapes, he used a telescope. Besides the paintings, only one small photo and a few brief anecdotes prove it.
Klimt wrote little, avoided cafe society and shunned other artists. The love of his life — women, women and women — were often bathed in allegory or mythology to disguise his eroticism. Female portraiture of the Vienna glitterati made his reputation and lined his pockets. His other models hung around the studio and were routinely available to him to pose in any manner he wished. “I am a painter who paints day after day from morning to night,” he admitted. Compulsive Klimt habitually worked in a voluminous caftan with no underwear, led a simple life, travelled little, and went regularly with his main girlfriend, Emilie Floge, to her family cabin on the Attersee. Klimt never married but managed to father a lot of kids, none of them with Emilie. After his death from a stroke in 1918 at age 55, fourteen showed up to claim his considerable wealth.
Klimt’s “mood landscapes,” painted mainly at the cabin, cleansed his palette like Austrian sherbet. From the porch, the shoreline around was ample inspiration. These are magic Art Nouveau works, decorative, rich in impression and forerunners of abstraction.
Telescopic and well-cropped subjects stack up and reduce material to two-dimensional designs and patterns. Useful as a compositional device and contrasting with traditional panoramic thinking, long-distance-looking gave Klimt sinuous forms as well as flat expanses. In the dancing aerial perspective of an uncorrected lens, he found new colours and pointillist energy. All of us can remember the joy we experienced when we first looked through the viewfinder of a telescopic camera. For the picture-maker it’s a wizardly ploy, particularly for a tired voyeur who feels the need to do something on a lakeside porch.
PS: “Anyone who wants to know something about me ought to look carefully at my pictures.” (Gustav Klimt, 1862-1918)
Esoterica: If you happen to be in New York before the end of June 2008, there’s a fresh collection of Klimt at the Neue Galerie, 1048 Fifth Avenue at 86th Street. There are 120 of his remarkable preparatory drawings, clothes he designed for Emilie and others, as well as lots of photos, dingbats and memorabilia. The block-busting Bloch-Bauer is there too, and other opulently patterned and gold-leafed women for which he is still chased in popular prints — and a precious few of those delicious landscapes I’ve been talking about.
Gustav Klimt (1862 – 1918)
by Paul Edmund Herman, Arcos de la Frontera, Spain
As the undisputed leader of the Austrian Secessionists (including Oscar Kokoshka and the great Egon Schiele) I was under the impression Klimt did indeed fraternize with other artists rather than shunning them as you say. I read a charming anecdote about the 17 year old Egon arriving humbly at Klimt’s studio with a bunch of his brilliant drawings under his arm to ask the maestro if he might take him as student to which Klimt, after looking at the drawings, replied: “Perhaps you can teach me something.”
A guide to Gustav
by Carol Lyons, Irvington, NY, USA
I happened to see the Gustav Klimt exhibit twice, once in Los Angeles and again with a private guided tour at the Neue Galerie in New York. The LA exhibit provided a short guided explanation with some important details which weren’t included in the longer Neue Gallerie – for example, covered hand of Adele Bloch-Bauer I is not painted because it was distorted and out of shape. This is not to take anything away from the Neue Gallerie guided tour; one tour cannot include everything. It was excellent and certainly worth my Eastern visit to the Gustav Klimt museum and listening to the very well-informed guide.
by Kim Lawonn
I was in Vienna, Austria in May 2007 and went to the Belvedere Osterreichische Gallerywhile there to view some of his works. One thing to note is the scale. Most are quite large. I was surprised at this but viewing it in person puts it into a different perspective. He used a square format in his landscapes. This corresponded to the Secessionists’ stylistic view that the square was the most perfect proportion. Because of using the telescope, his paintings look cropped. I had not been aware of his landscapes before seeing his works there. They looked very fresh. Art Nouveau is known as Jugendstil in German-speaking countries. I like how Klimt combines the Jugendstil florals with geometric ornamentation in some of his works with naturalistically painted faces and skin tones. His application of gold and silver really add a layering of lightness to his works. And yes, his portraits of women were exceptional.
There’s nothing like the original
by Michelle Rummel
For my fortieth birthday, all I wished for was a trip to New York City to visit the Neue Galerie to see Gustav Klimt’s work with my own two eyes. My wonderful husband granted me that wish and I can tell you that I literally had tears in my eyes as I stood inches in front of Klimt’s famous portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I. Aside from the impressive size, what struck me most was the light that seemed to emanate from it. It’s a remarkable piece, dazzling really. Standing with my eyes just inches from the canvas, this privilege afforded me a close-up look at each precise brushstroke and I found myself viewing this masterpiece in microcosm for the first time. In reality, the work looks nothing like the mass produced replicas that saturate our marketplace. As a long time (and long-distance) Klimt admirer, it was a joy to realize this and the best birthday gift I have ever had.
Pilgrimage to Klimt
by Ben Novak, Edmonton, AB and Ottawa, ON, Canada
I love Klimt’s works, and that of his younger contemporary, Egon Schiele. I have made several pilgrimages to Austria to see various great exhibitions (Klimt at the Belvedere Palace in Vienna, the Sezession Gallery). I also saw Schiele at the Museum Quartier in central Vienna. I even made it to the Attersee and the villa he rented, a beautiful house by any standard, on a hill close to the lake in the town of Seewalchen. I walked around to find some of the views he painted, and like you, had learned that he did use a telescope sometimes, a fact that is revealed when one notices the foreshortened depth in some of his landscapes in the area. I also have a collection of reproductions of his sketches of women, which you describe in a rather tame manner. Klimt painted in many styles and is also famous for major wall and ceiling decorations in private homes and public buildings such as theaters and cultural facilities, in several locations around the old Austria-Hungarian Empire. Most of these were destroyed, and records, mostly in black and white, are scarce.
Tall Poplars I
by Sara Genn, Santorini, Greece
I grew up on a diet of “grey to rest the eye.” It’s part of my vernacular too, dad… only these days in the deep throws of heavy duty abstractions, it’s landscape that rests my brush, and I’m delighted to rejuvenate with the aerial perspectives of the fen below our family home. I suspect Klimt felt the same way about Emilie’s cottage. His landscapes possess a casual glee, I love them. I’m standing in the Neue Gallerie, in front of Tall Poplars I. It’s exactly as you describe: cropped and designy, with Klimty moments while remaining underembellished. It has a natural palette of masterful grays in a masterful sky, and a solid, blocky tree-sky-pocket hat-trick. Total inspiration and dazzling, even with the $135 million jobby hanging on the facing wall.
Importance of drawings
by Liz Reday, South Pasadena, CA, USA
I’m glad you mentioned Gustav Klimt’s preparatory drawings, because that is where I really start to understand an artist’s work. In my mind, drawing is just like thinking for an artist, and I have become fascinated by the way artists chose to draw their subjects or worked up the ideas for their paintings. One contemporary artist whose work I admire, David Curtis, talks about carrying his sketchbook around with him as he makes quick sketches of figures to use in his paintings of landscapes later, (Capturing the Moment in Oils), and they really are effective in drawing your eye to the focal point in his excellent paintings. Other artists talk about making rapid thumbnail sketches for compositional purposes before they paint, and many times when you happen upon a perfect scene without your easel set-up, you can capture the essence of it with simple pencil and paper (and camera). As a result, I’m drawing anything and everything around me this week. John Singer Sargent did many breathtakingly beautiful drawings in pencil and pastel, (Dover Art Library: Sargent Portrait Drawings). The drawings he did of fellow artists, dancers and musicians are really soulful, and the way he drew the aristocracy are equally intuitive. It just goes to show the expertise he had before tossing off a loose painting commission with those bravura brush strokes. Knowing how to draw well and understanding the construction of your motif allows the artist to be more suggestive once you get out the paint. My theory is that I will let go my desire to put so much detail and stuff in my paintings by doing a careful sketch beforehand, then I can let loose with a spontaneous quick little painting using the minimum number of brush strokes. This works better when I have several days with the same subject, as the sun will have set before I finish the darn drawing.
Art transcends origins
by Jeffrey Hessing, Nice, France
I have been to China nine times in three years. I have participated in the Shanghai art fair five times, once in the Beijing Art Fair and visited a couple of other fairs as well as galleries in both cities. Chinese art is much as art anywhere in the world, the US, Europe, where ever. There are a handful of great artists in the country; some very good ones and a great many skilled but uninspired. The enormous prices are a result of speculation much like the stock market. It is a fad. Everyone was talking about Russian art a few years ago; now very little. The art market has become sadly like the fashion business given to trends rather than lasting value. Apart from the traditional arts such as ink painting, I don’t believe that great art has a nationality. We know that Goya was Spanish, Da Vinci, Italian, and Rembrandt, Dutch. But we don’t think of them first as the Dutch painter or the Spanish painter anymore than Picasso or Matisse. Sometimes there is a flavor of nationality in their art but often we don’t know or care where they came from. Chagal and Soutine were Russian but lived in France. DeKooning was Dutch and came to NY in his forties. Who cares? They transcend their origins. For the rest it is much to do about nothing. It is a wave which will die down in a few years as deserving Chinese artists will take their just place among artists, dealers, museums and collectors in the worldwide market.
Chinese art market
by Jon Burris, Edmond, OK, USA
The Chinese market is a complicated one and is certainly worthy of extended analysis. Like so many markets, there’s far more beneath the surface of what you read in the daily press. It has been my experience that it takes five to ten years to really sort out the underpinnings of a given market, be it photography or whatever. Dealers depend on hype and the fact that many collectors choose to be trendy as opposed to informed. The great thing is that you can still go to China and learn a lot on your own and make qualitative decisions. In September and October, I took two sets of clients there to buy paintings. One pair was accepting of the prices and made good decisions based on their budget. The other was upset at the overall prices and for the first two weeks, resisted buying. They had been to China eight years earlier and they fully expected to find new artists selling at prices that were eight years old! In the end, they returned with half as many paintings as they expected to find, but all good examples. It’s a most unusual market, but a fascinating experiment in general.
(RG note) Thanks, Jon. And thanks also to the many artists who wrote their thoughts about Chinese art. Informed material is still coming in. In situations where so many people write the same thing (e.g. “Chinese entrepreneurship is destroying Western economies.”) we try to choose only one or two letters that might be representative.
Enjoy the past comments below for Long-distance look…
Big rollers, Maine
oil painting, 9 x 12 inches
You may be interested to know that artists from every state in the USA, every province in Canada, and at least 115 countries worldwide have visited these pages since January 1, 2013.
That includes Jeri-Lynn Ing of Red Deer, AB, Canada who wrote, “The unique square composition magnifies Klimt’s perspective and gives his work a tension maybe not found in the more traditional rectangle composition.”
And also Adan Lerma who wrote, “It makes me wonder if I can cleanse my own palette by reversing my own pattern of landscapes and doing some female figures.”