GUSTAV KLIMT (1862-1918)
GUSTAV KLIMT (1862-1918)
GUSTAV KLIMT (1862-1918)
GUSTAV KLIMT (1862-1918)
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On occasion, Christie's has a direct financial int… Read more Visionary: The Paul G. Allen Collection
GUSTAV KLIMT (1862-1918)

Birch Forest

Details
GUSTAV KLIMT (1862-1918)
Birch Forest
signed ‘GUSTAV KLIMT’ (lower left)
oil on canvas
43 3/8 x 43 1/4 in. (110.1 x 109.8 cm.)
Painted in 1903
Provenance
Adele and Ferdinand Bloch-Bauer, Vienna (acquired from the artist).
Seized by the Viennese Magistrate, May 1938 (following the Nazi Anschluss of March 1938).
With Dr. Erich Führer, Vienna (the state-appointed administrator for Ferdinand Bloch-Bauer).
Städtische Sammlung, Vienna (acquired from the above, November 1942).
Österreichische Galerie, Vienna (transferred from the above, 1948).
Restituted to the heirs of Adele and Ferdinand Bloch-Bauer by the Republic of Austria, March 2006; sale, Christie's, New York, 8 November 2006, lot 51 (world auction record for the artist at the time of sale).
Acquired at the above sale by the late owner.
Literature
H.O. Miethke, Das Werk Gustav Klimt, Vienna, 1914, vol. 4 (illustrated, pl. 6).
Mitteilungen Staatsgalerie, 1921, no. 52.
M.J. Liechtenstein, Gustav Klimt und seine oberösterreichischen Salzkammergutlandschaften, 1951, no. 25.
I. Hatle, Gustav Klimt, ein Wiener Maler des Jugendstils, Graz, 1955 (dated 1905).
E. Pirchan, Gustav Klimt, Vienna, 1956, no. 75 (illustrated).
F. Novotny and J. Dobai, Gustav Klimt, Salzburg, 1967, p. 334, no. 136 (illustrated; illustrated again, fig. 50).
J. Dobai and S. Coradeschi, L'opera completa di Klimt, Milan, 1978, p. 102, no. 123 (illustrated; illustrated again in color, fig. XXVI).
F. Novotny, "im Zusammenhang–Im Gegensatz" in Gustav Klimt: Goldene Pforte, Salzburg, 1978, p. 215.
J. Dobai, Gustav Klimt: Landscapes, London, 1981, pp. 19 and 72 (illustrated, p. 19, fig. 22; illustrated again in color, p. 73, pl. 19).
S. Partsch, Klimt: Life and Work, London, 1990, pp. 103 and 285 (illustrated in color, p. 102, fig. 30).
G. Frodl, Klimt, Cologne, 1992, p. 144 (illustrated in color, p. 145).
G. Frodl, Gustav Klimt in der Österreichischen Galerie Belvedere Wien, Salzburg, 1992, p. 85 (illustrated in color).
A. Weidinger, Neues zu den Landschaften Gustav Klimts, Ph.D. diss., Salzburg, 1992, p. 101.
G. Fliedl, Gustav Klimt: The World in Female Form, Cologne, 1998, p. 95 (illustrated).
S. Partsch, Klimt: Life and Work, Germering, 1999, p. 103, no. 30 (illustrated in color, p. 129).
S. Koja, ed., Gustav Klimt Landscapes, New York, 2002, p. 215 (illustrated in color, pl. 21; detail illustrated in color).
S. Lillie, Was einmal war. Handbuch der enteigneten Kunstsammlungen Wiens, Vienna, 2003, p. 204.
S. Koja, "'Frisch weht der Wind der Heimat zu...' Neue Beobachtungen zur Topographie von Klimts Landschaftsbildern" in Belvedere. Zeitschrift für Bildende Kunst, 2007, pp. 214-215.
S. Lillie and G. Gaugusch, Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer, New York, 2007, pp. 43-44, 71-72, 78, 86 and 91 (illustrated in color).
A. Weidinger, ed., Gustav Klimt, Munich, 2007, p. 281, no. 174 (illustrated in color).
T.G. Natter, Gustav Klimt: The Complete Paintings, Cologne, 2012, pp . 593-594, no. 160 (illustrated in color, p. 593).
Exhibited
Vienna Secession, XVIII. Ausstellung, Gustav Klimt, November-December 1903, no. 3 or 4.
Berlin, Zweite Ausstellung des Deutschen Künstlerbunds, 1905, p. 21, no. 112.
Vienna, Kunstschau, 1908, p. 47, no. 9.
Venice, IX. Esposizione Internazionale di Venezia, 1910, p. 60, no. 3 (titled I faggi).
Kunsthaus Zürich, Ein Jahrhundert Wiener Malerei, May-June 1918, p. 12, no. 60 or 66.
Vienna, Österreichische Staatsgalerie, Neuerwerbungen 1918-1921, June 1921, p. 11, no. 52.
Vienna Secession, Klimt-Gedächtnisausstellung, XCIX. Ausstellung der Vereinigung Bildender Künstler Wiener Secession, June-July 1928, p. 12, no. 39.
(possibly) Bern Kunsthalle, 1937, no. 4
Vienna, Ausstellungshaus Friedrichstrasse, Gustav Klimt Ausstellung, February-March 1943, no. 10 (illustrated).
Amsterdam, Stedelijk Museum, Austria, 1956, no. 121.
Kunsthalle Bern, Kunst aus Österreich, February-March 1957, no. 44 (dated 1905).
St. Gallen, Kunstmuseum, Kunst aus Österreich, 1957, no. 29.
Tokyo, Sezon Museum, Vienna at the Turn of the CenturyKlimt, Schiele and their Time, October-December 1989.
Madrid, Museo Reina Sofia, Viena 1900, October 1993-January 1994, p. 189, no. 347 (illustrated in color).
Los Angeles County Museum of Art and New York, Neue Galerie, Gustav Klimt: Five Paintings from the Collection of Ferdinand Bloch-Bauer, April-October 2006 (illustrated in color).
Belvedere Wien, Gustav Klimt und Die Kunstschau 1908, October 2008-January 2009, p. 290 (illustrated in color; dated 1904).
Oregon, Portland Art Museum; Washington, D.C., The Phillips Collection; Minneapolis Institute of Arts; New Orleans Museum of Art and Seattle Art Museum, Seeing Nature: Landscape Masterworks from the Paul G. Allen Family Collection, October 2015-May 2017, pp. 16, 18-19, 26, 29 and 86, no. 18 (illustrated in color, p. 87; illustrated in color again on the cover).
Special notice

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Sale room notice
Please note that this painting has been requested by the Neue Galerie for their exhibition Gustav Klimt: Landscapes from February-May 2024.

Brought to you by

Max Carter
Max Carter Vice Chairman, 20th and 21st Century Art, Americas

Lot Essay

“I get up early in the morning, usually around 6 am, sometimes earlier sometimes later. If I get up and the weather is fine I go into the nearby forest. I am painting a small beech grove, mixed with a few conifers,” so Gustav Klimt described life in the picturesque village of Litzlberg, situated on Lake Attersee in Austria, in the summer of 1903 (Letter to M. Zimmerman, August 1903, quoted in S. Koja, ed., Gustav Klimt: Landscapes, Munich, 2006, p. 27). Filled with the stillness, mystery and timelessness that characterizes the greatest of Klimt’s landscapes, Birch Forest was painted during this idyllic summer retreat.
Here, Klimt has pictured a segment of a densely wooded birch forest with exquisite, meticulously rendered detail. The elegant, otherworldly silver trunks ascend, “like columns in a cathedral created by nature,” Johannes Dobai described, from a dappled bronze carpet of fallen leaves (Gustav Klimt Landscapes, London, 1988, p. 17). A multitude of hues, gold, russet, and sage make up this mosaic-like accumulation of strokes, a contrast to the deep green foliage that lines the top of the closely cropped canvas. With his distinctive artistic technique, including his newly adapted pointillist-style brushstrokes, Klimt transformed this quiet corner of a woods into a shimmering vision of subtle color, pattern and light.
Landscape scenes comprise almost half of Klimt’s oeuvre from the time that he began painting this genre in the 1890s. They stand as an encapsulation of his idiosyncratic style as well as an expression of the importance that nature held for the artist. “It is no exaggeration to say that those who carefully study the landscapes will discover the complete Klimt,” Stephan Koja has written, “become intimate with his artistic sensibility and concerns, and discover the essence of Klimt’s art: his coloristic brilliance, precisely detailed pictorial composition, omnipresent sensuality, controlled by the distancing from the object, and the rigid organization of the surface” (ibid., p. 9).
The landscape as a motif provided Klimt with a solace and solitude that he desired at times following the intensity of his life as an established leader of the Viennese avant-garde. During the autumn and spring of each year, he focused on his famed portraits and allegorical compositions. When the summer months arrived, Klimt, like the rest of the wealthy and intellectual circles of the city, left Vienna to enjoy what was known as Sommerfrische. Keen to escape the heat and dust of the city, many, including the artist, traveled to Salzkammergut, a picturesque and rural area to the east of Salzburg.
For artists, writers, thinkers and intellectuals, this period offered time and space for new inspiration and undisturbed work while immersed in the wonders of nature. Klimt spent the Sommerfrische with members of the Flöge family. His brother, Ernest, had been married to Helene Flöge. After Ernest’s death, Klimt remained close to their family, a guardian to their daughter, and companion of Helene’s sister, Emilie. Year after year the family spent this summer retreat together, holidaying from 1900 until 1912 in the picturesque villages that stood on the banks of the Attersee.
It was during these periods of respite that Klimt painted the majority of his landscape scenes. Painted within nature, rather than in the confines of his city studio, this genre offered a form of escapism for the artist, far removed from the demands of his commissions and his public life. “For Klimt, the landscape—in its luminous utopian quietude—became a genre to complement his late portraits of wealthy female clients in highly crafted, hermetic, and aestheticized settings” (C.E. Schorske, in ibid., p. 11). His landscape scenes were painted purely for himself, reflecting a sense of wonder and fascination at the world around him, as well as enabling him to let his artistic vision take flight as he honed his visual language. The sense of quiet solitude, isolation, and peace that emanates from Birch Forest can be seen to reflect this.
Until 1907, Klimt and the Flöge family stayed in the guesthouse of the Litzlberg brewery on Lake Attersee. If the weather was clement, Klimt would set out to paint his surroundings, focusing on different aspects of the countryside, including the lake, orchards, flower-filled meadows and garden scenes. Their summer home had a small woods behind, and it is likely there that Klimt painted his wooded landscapes, including Birch Forest. So frequently did the artist make his way to the dark depths of the woods, laden with his paint materials, that the locals named him the Waldschrat, or “Forest Demon” (ibid., p. 27).
Klimt once described how he chose his landscape compositions. “With a viewfinder,” he explained, “that is a hole cut into a piece of cardboard, I looked for motifs for landscapes I wanted to paint and found many or—if you prefer—few” (Letter to M. Zimmerman, August 1903, ibid., p. 27). With its intense focus on a carefully demarcated scene—the multi-layered and multihued woodland floor and the dense battalion of the birches stretching into the distance as far as the eye can see—the present work encapsulates Klimt’s use of this technique. As in many of his landscapes, any glimpse of sky is absent, deliberately excluded so to feature only the kaleidoscopic detail and color of this quiet corner of nature. Not even a shadow or glimmer of light has made its way through the trees’ canopy, the luminous blue petals of the two plants that grow in the immediate foreground the only indication that daylight must at times penetrate this silent world.
This pictorial effect is heightened by the square format of the canvas. This is one of the most distinctive and important features of Klimt’s landscapes. While imparting a sense of symmetrical harmony to the expansive realm of nature, the square also removes the traditional horizontality usually so inherent in landscape painting. In Birch Forest, the verticality of the trees, together with their interconnecting branches and foliage, obscures any horizon line. Despite this lack of recession the scene does not feel flat. Playing with pictorial depth was one of the key features of Klimt’s work, particularly his landscapes, as he conceived a new mode of presenting compositional space. The numerous, overlaid speckles, flecks, and strokes of color of the present work replace the traditional perspectival methods of imparting depth. As a result, the composition still appears as if a window onto another world.
In removing a natural vanishing point and subverting the viewer’s expectations of pictorial depth, the focus of the composition becomes the masterfully worked picture surface itself. Klimt has constructed this scene with myriad strokes that add a sense of lush materiality to the composition. This is accentuated by the deliberate refinement of the horizontal strokes that make up the bark surface of several of the thicker trees. “The initial phase of the painting can still be seen,” Koja has described Birch Forest, “the background is finely brushed, making clear how slowly and carefully Klimt worked and also that he corrected, when necessary. Paintings such as this permit us to follow almost every individual stage in the painting procedure” (ibid., p. 67). The result of this process is a magical effect in which Klimt transports the viewer to experience the sensation of standing amid the landscape. So minutely has he rendered the detail that one can almost feel the cool, damp atmosphere of this wooded world.
It is this devotion to detail—each one of the tree trunks bears a different pattern, the marks on the bark like eyes staring out to greet the viewer’s own gaze—that defines Klimt’s oeuvre as a whole. Indeed, the connection between his clear delight in capturing the myriad details and colors that exists within the landscape and that which can be felt in his sensual and splendidly ornate images of woman in his portraits has been noted by writers. “In addition to the feeling for form, there is an amazing sense of the voluptuous atmospheric power of colors,” Richard Muther has described. “A miserable nature, a nature working in the service of man, a sedate nature, peaty bogs and steaming fields were never painted by Klimt. In his work, even the lake is not threatening or gloomy. It resembles a beautiful woman’s silk gown, shimmering and flirtatiously sparkling with blue, grass green, and violet tones. Klimt always remained an eroticist… The motifs themselves are scarcely different from those painted by hundreds of others, but one recognizes Klimt on account of the tenderness, the lascivious softness of the feeling for nature” (quoted in ibid., p. 68).
The motif of birch trees and forests was a popular subject for artists at this time. A group of “forest fir motifs” was shown in the Thirteenth Exhibition at the Secession in 1902, which included Klimt’s earlier works of this theme. Artists including Ferdinand Hodler, Fernand Khnopff, Piet Mondrian, as well as photography of the period, had all captured scenes such as this, entering into the German Romantic tradition which hailed the forest as a place of mystery.
Klimt’s own depictions of birch and pine trees reflect his stylistic development within these opening years of the twentieth century. The artist’s depictions of these subjects in 1900 and 1901 are more naturalistically rendered in comparison to the more radically executed Birch Trees and others painted in 1902 and 1903. The main impetus for this shift was Klimt’s increased exposure to Neo-Impressionism. Viennese audiences had first witnessed Pointillism in the form of Théo van Rysselberghe’s work when it was exhibited in the city in 1899. This was followed by the inclusion of Paul Signac’s art in the 1900 Secession exhibition. Three years later, a major show of French Impressionism and Post-Impressionism was included too, which featured Georges Seurat’s Un dimanche d’été à l’île de la Grande Jatte of 1885-1886 (Art Institute of Chicago).
Keenly aware of international artistic developments that were taking place around him, Klimt allowed these advances to influence him, yet he retained his idiosyncratic style at the core. Over the course of these years, Klimt began to adopt the smaller, more defined brushwork employed by the Neo-Impressionists, replacing his earlier slightly looser Impressionist-inspired brushwork. He did not however employ this technique in accordance with the color theories espoused by Seurat and Signac, nor as a means of conveying objectively rendered light effects. Rather, Klimt adopted the dot-like brushstroke to express the richness and diversity of tones and textures that comprised his carefully selected landscape scenes. “Klimt’s inner passion was for making his understanding more real—focusing on what constituted the essence of things behind their mere physical appearance,” Johannes Dobai has written (op. cit., 1988, p. 12). This brushwork meant that his compositions became tighter and more condensed, the intensity and precision of detail leading to a novel sense of abstraction absent in his earlier works of this genre. Atmospheres are intensified and the sensation heightened, as Birch Forest masterfully shows.
In the autumn of 1903, when Klimt was back in his studio in Vienna, he selected Birch Forest to be included in the Secession held in November-December of that year. This exhibition was particularly important for Klimt on a personal level—it was dedicated solely to him, serving as the first one-man show of his career. From this point onwards, Birch Forest was included in a number of seminal exhibitions. Klimt chose to include it in the first Kunstschau held in Vienna in 1908. The artist, along with a number of other avant-garde leaders, organized this show following their split from the Secession three years earlier. The architect, Joseph Hoffmann designed a unique exhibition space, intended to be a Gesamtkunstwerk, for this large scale exhibition.
Klimt’s work formed a centerpiece of this show. In a gallery designed by Kolo Moser, dedicated to the artist, he included Birch Forest as well as other key works including The Three Ages of Woman (Novotny, no. 141; Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Moderna, Rome), The Kiss (no. 140; Österreichische Galerie Belvedere), Portrait of Fritza Riedler (no. 143; Österreichische Galerie Belvedere), Poppy field (no. 149; Österreichische Galerie Belvedere) and Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I (no. 150; Neue Galerie, New York). Two years later, Birch Forest featured again in the IX Venice Biennale, one of just twenty-two works carefully selected by the artist.
Birch Forest was acquired from Klimt by the now legendary collectors, Adele and Ferdinand Bloch-Bauer. Adele Bloch-Bauer was an important patron of the artist and a leading figure in Viennese society. Married to the industrialist and banker, Ferdinand Bloch, together they formed an impressive collection of paintings and decorative arts. In addition to their two portraits of Adele—she was the only woman Klimt ever painted twice—the couple’s collection of oil paintings by the artist consisted of four other works, all of which were landscapes: Schloss Kammer on the Attersee III of 1909-1910 (no. 171; Österreichische Galerie Belvedere), Apple Tree I of 1912 (no. 180; Private collection), Houses at Unterach on the Attersee, circa 1916 (no. 199; Private collection) and Birch Forest.
Their collection was seized by the Nazi authorities in the days following the Austrian Anschluss in 1938. In 2006, five of their six works—the present work, Houses at Unterach on the Attersee and Apple Tree I and both Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I and II (nos. 150 and 177) were restituted to the heirs of the Bloch-Bauers. The so-called “Woman in Gold,” or Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I was acquired by the Neue Galerie, New York, where it remains today. The other four works, including Birch Forest, were sold at Christie’s, New York in November 2006.

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