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Bauerngarten (Blumengarten)

  • GBR
  • 2017-03-01
About the object
Painted in 1907 during the golden period of Klimts career, Bauerngarten is a masterpiece of Viennese fin-de-siècle art. This remarkable landscape is rooted in the natural world yet simultaneously reaches towards the symbolic, decorative avant-garde. It is this synthesis of natural beauty and harmonious regularity which lends the work its profoundly moving quality. During the summer months, from 1900 onwards, Klimt travelled out of Vienna to Litzlberg on the Attersee with his friends and family to relax and paint. In the rustic garden of the Mayr-Hof Klimt found inspiration for the present work, with its informal profusion of poppies, daisies, zinnia and roses, and transformed it into a shimmering array of colour. Celebrated since its very first exhibition in Vienna in 1908 Kunstschau, Bauerngarten is regarded as one of the artists finest landscapes. The exhibition caused a sensation, with critics claiming that Klimt had endowed his works with an almost mystical quality, and declaring him a master landscape painter. Writing a review of the show Josef August Lux stated: The flower meadows are even more beautiful since Klimt has painted them; the artist gives us an eye with which to see the radiant glory of their colours. We never learn to seize nature in her magical beauty other than through art, which always renews her appearance (J.A. Lux quoted in Gustav Klimt: Modernism in the Making (exhibition catalogue), op. cit., p. 115). The 1908 exhibition came at an important time for Klimt, having left the Secession in 1905 taking with him an eponymously named splinter group, and he had not had a public showing of his work for three years. The Kunstschau was a comprehensive exhibition of avant-garde Viennese art in rooms designed by Josef Hoffmann, and Klimt was given a room to himself in which were hung sixteen pictures including Bauerngarten. In his opening address at the Kunstschau he declared: We have not been idle - on the contrary - perhaps just because we have been freed from worries about exhibitions, we have worked all the more assiduously and intensely on the on the development of our ideas (the artist quoted in Christian M. Nebehay, op. cit., 2007, p. 169).
Though publically known from the outset of his career for his allegorical compositions and female portraits, in the 1890s and afterwards landscape painting became an increasingly important outlet for Klimts creativity eventually accounting for nearly a quarter of his uvre. The development of his landscape style mirrored and motivated the technical changes found in his figure paintings - initially employing both Impressionist and Pointillist techniques (fig. 1), and latterly engaging in more expressive brushwork and colour. These stylistic changes also reflected his intellectual concerns - at the turn of the century he painted en plein air like his Impressionist contemporaries in France which endowed his early work with a level of naturalistic fidelity. However, as Johannes Dobai explains: Klimt, unlike the Impressionists, was not fascinated by a form of art which represented, ultimately, the perfection of naturalism, and hence the artistic apogee of an empirically positivist view of the world. Instead Klimts inner passion was for making his understanding more real focusing on what constituted the essence of things behind their mere physical appearance []. The development of his treatment of the picture surface reveals that Klimt must have been well acquainted with the techniques of Impressionism and Pointillism, although he did not set pure colours next to one another. He graded his colours in a way which bears comparison to Monet and Seurat, although his Klimts work is more refined the artist wished to create a mood painting (J. Dobai, Gustav Klimt, Landscapes, London, 1988, pp. 12-15).
In the mid-1910s this changed and working primarily inside his studio he pioneered a decorative intensity and symbolism of his own devising, and which was to become his greatest contribution to the history of art. This shift was in part inspired by a major exhibition of paintings by Van Gogh at the Galerie Miethke in Vienna which Klimt visited and greatly admired (fig. 3). Seeing Van Gogh's ability to render brilliantly coloured landscapes using pure paint and few traditional techniques emboldened Klimt and he began using much thicker brushwork. These works reached their zenith in the flower paintings of 1905-1908 (figs. 4 & 5) wherein, as Frank Whtiford explains: His paintings are faithful to what he saw, yet at the same time they go beyond it. They use design and texture, pattern and colour, in order to make the transitory permanent, to arrest the fleeting, to transform and fix a world that is constantly changing and decaying into an immutable paradise (F. Whitford, Klimt, London, 1990, p. 184).
The square-canvas format chosen by Klimt for the present work heightens its visual impact and creates a marked difference to traditional landscape painting. Klimt started to use this type of support exclusively for landscapes in 1899, with the format used to impart two specific effects; the symmetry denies the dominance of either horizontal or vertical elements in the picture, thus containing the scene with a tighter efficience, and secondly the square increases the sense that these are objects for contemplation - they emanate atmosphere. Significantly Claude Monet had started to use the square format in 1898 until 1916 to depict his waterlily ponds at Giverny (fig. 6). Monet was attempting to increase the impact of the surface of his paintings; the square negated the traditional emphasis on perspective and gave his daring brushwork a stable support upon which to play. Both Klimt and Monet used this technical innovation to make a break from the accepted form of landscape art. Frank Whitford has suggested that one particular characteristic of Klimts landscapes was that the majority have an extremely high horizon line, or lack one altogether, so that their subjects, whether flower beds, woods or meadows, seem to unfurl before the eye from top to bottom of the canvas, more like tapestries or rugs than paintings (ibid., p. 184).
The unconventional composition of the Bauerngarten is also key to its visual and symbolic potency. Discussing the present work, Johannes Dobai wrote: In Flower Garden the basic motif is a kind of floral pyramid; the triangular shape - which tends to have a condensing effect - contains an abundance of flowers and leaves, all of varying size, colour, luminosity and characteristics; it contains a 'multiplicity in simplicity'. The positioning of these elements follows the 'rule' of uncultivated, untamed nature - accident and agglomeration. Just as the seeds are carried away at the whim of the wind, so the blossoms grow in distorted clusters, although occasionally there is as rigorous a geometry about them as there is about the square of the painting itself. Bottom right, for instance, there is a group comprising four flowers; three of them lie horizontally at equal distance from one another, while above the third flower on the right there floats a fourth of the same species. In other clusters there is a similar dialectical interplay between geometry and disorder. Now and again within the pyramid individual flowers appear, almost like surprise special effects, in this firework display of summer heat (J. Dobai, Gustav Klimt Landscapes, Boston, 1988, p. 19).
The triangular arrangement of the uppermost flowers enrobed by poppies and zinnias bears some striking visual similarities to that of several figurative paintings that were executed during the same period. This direct comparison can provoke certain allegorical readings of the work, as well as offering a more human interpretation of its floral display. As Thomas Zaunschirm has written about Bauerngarten: The flowers are composed in an almost anthropomorphic manner on what is still a flickering green surface of obsessive detail (T. Zaunschirm quoted in A. Weidinger (ed.), op. cit., 2007, p. 285). Furthermore, Johannes Dobai believed that the locus of Klimt's thematic material is the erotic, which branches into its sexual and biological aspects. The predilection toward the erotic can be noted both in figural compositions and in landscape (J. Dobai, Gustav Klimt and Egon Schiele, New York, 1965, pp. 23-24).
During the years 1905-1908 Klimt painted some of his most celebrated and innovative figurative works, including Der Kuss, Der Hoffnung II (fig. 9) and his golden portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer (fig. 1). The compositions of these major works all reference the bejewelled studies of flowers worked on during the summer months, and their dazzling intensity is mainly derived not from his use of gold and silver pigments, but their sections of superb brushwork depicting brightly coloured flowers. Richard Muther was one of the earliest critics to identify the close connection between Klimts landscape paintings and the golden figurative works, writing: In addition to the feeling for form, there is an amazing sense for the voluptuous atmosphere power of colours... 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 womans silk gown, shimmering and flirtatiously sparkling with blue, grass green, and violet tones (R. Muther, quoted in Gustav Klimt Landscapes (exhibition catalogue), op. cit. p. 68). This sentiment is particularly prescient considering Klimts close friendship with the fashion designer Emilie Flöge, with whom he had an intense personal and artistic relationship and with whom every year he spent holidays in the Salzkammergut countryside. Intriguingly Klimt also designed dresses for Emilie, many of which were decorated with stylised flower patterns enabling life to imitate his art.
The present work was acquired by the Národní Galerie in Prague in 1910 where it remained until 1968. It was first exhibited in Prague at the Deutsch-Böhmischer Kunstlerbund in 1910, where it received a great deal of praise and attention, including the reviewer in the Prager Tagblatt, who praised this gloriously luminous country meadow that, like the sky in summer, glitters with hundreds of stars (quoted in T. Natter (ed.), op. cit., p. 603).
Signed Gustav Klimt (lower right)

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