Klimt Landscape Show Is More, and Less, Than Expected

It was exciting to look forward to the exhibition “Klimt Landscapes,” now at the Neue Galerie. Klimt, of course, is Gustav Klimt (1862-1918), the Austrian modernist widely beloved for his paintings of the most beautiful women of Vienna’s haute bourgeoisie.

In the best portraits, ethereal creatures wear lavishly patterned gowns that all but merge with backgrounds of off-kilter geometries often accented by gold, silver and copper leaf, inspired by the mosaics of Ravenna. Their pinnacle is the glittering 1907 “Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I” — depicting one of Klimt’s greatest collectors as delicate yet regal — which has been on permanent display on the Neue Galerie’s second floor since the museum’s founder, Ronald S. Lauder, acquired it for $135 million in 2006.

But “Klimt Landscapes,” on the third floor, is not what it set out to be. The title implies a sizable survey of the lush images of parks, orchards and sundry trees that Klimt painted in the last two decades of his life, usually during summers spent on the Attersee, the largest lake in Austria’s resort region. These works are not well known in the United States, nor are there many in American museums. Still, the exhibition of 10 landscapes at the Clark Art Institute in Williamstown, Mass., in 2002, was the first anywhere to focus on them exclusively.

“Forester’s House in Weissenbach II (Garden),” 1914, oil on canvas.Credit…Neue Galerie New York

In contrast, the Neue’s exhibition contains just six late landscapes, and not always the best, since half of them center on vine-covered forest cottages and lakeside villas and can be cloying. Also on view are five smaller paintings from the 1880s and ’90s that touch on Klimt’s development from the romanticized academicism evident in the public murals to his late landscapes.

In these landscapes, naturalism and abstraction often battle to a pulsating draw by means of a magnified, or coarsened pointillism that recalls Seurat in its mosaic-like array of dots, dashes and commas. Klimt painted directly onto the canvas, in contrast to the portraits, which required numerous studies. The resulting masses of textured greens have weight and press forward, sometimes nearly filling the entire surface.

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