Large Poplar II, 1903, Leopold Museum, Vienna
It was not until relatively late in his career that Gustav Klimt started to paint landscapes. However, during the first sixteen years of the 20th century Gustav Klimt spent his summers with his companion Emilie Flöge and the rest of the Flöge family in the scenic Salzkammergut area east of Salzburg. There he painted views across the the Attersee (the largest lake in the region) and in the surrounding countryside. Sometimes these paintings might include intimate closeups of flowers and trees. Invariably he would use an unusual square format for his canvases.
During the summer of 1903 Klimt wrote from the Attersee to Maria Zimmermann, one of his muses (and one of his many lovers), describing his daily routine. He gets up early, at 6am or earlier and paints until 8 o’clock. After breakfast he would go for a swim in the lake etc etc. Then ‘after supper I start painting again – a large poplar tree at dusk, with an approaching thunderstorm.’
The location shows the tiny Seehof Chapel, near Litzlberg, dominated by the huge tree. Klimt has squeezed the horizon into the bottom few centimetres of the square canvas. The minimal foreground strip, rendered with dashes of red brown and green, tends to amplify the scale of the poplar, dwarfing the Chapel and creating a mood of solitude and reflection. The brooding sky, bearing down on the land, heightens the introspection pervading the painting as whirling vortices of greys and blues herald the advancing storm.
In order to produce such extreme perspectives Klimt occasionally used opera glasses, a telescope or a simple viewfinder to produce these dramatically condensed compositions – an obvious influence of photography. Writing to Maria Zimmermann he explained that he ‘spent the early morning, the day and the evening with my “viewfinder” – a square cut into a piece of cardboard – looking for subject matter for my landscape paintings…’