During the time it had taken to paint, Gustav Klimt had transformed himself from the darling of the Viennese establishment to the reviled leader of the radical avant-garde — a controversial innovator of erotically charged imagery brimming with Art Nouveau and Symbolist influence. Klimt was accused of perverting the youth of Austria. It was an event that ended his career as the leading light of the conservative establishment yet marked the coming of age of one of the 20th century’s great masters.
Born in Vienna in 1862, Klimt studied at the Vienna Kunstgewerbeschule and achieved recognition quickly. Together with his brother, Ernst, and fellow artist, Franz von Matsch, he formed a studio that won important commissions for large, civic murals in Viennese institutions such as the Burgtheater and the Kunsthistorisches Museum.
Tragedy struck in 1892 with Ernst’s death and, for a time, Klimt’s productivity declined. When he returned to work, he became increasingly influenced by Impressionism, Symbolism and the English artist Aubrey Beardsley. By 1897, his ideas had culminated in an artistic revolution, and he led a group of 40 artists who broke with the conservative Viennese Artists’ Association of the Kunstlerhaus to found the Vienna Secession, a movement committed to saving culture from convention.
By the mid-1900s, all the elements of Klimt’s revolutionary fusion of Art Nouveau, Symbolism and Byzantine ornamentation were being beautifully exampled in iconic paintings such as Beethoven Frieze (1902), The Tree of Life (1905) and The Kiss (1907–08). In 1905, Klimt broke with the Secession and, from 1909, his work became less ornate and decorative as he concentrated on landscapes and portraits, such as his beautiful depiction of Baroness Bachofen-Echt (1914–16). For a younger generation of artists including Egon Schiele, Oskar Kokoschka and Wassily Kandinsky, Klimt would be a defining influence.
Klimt’s oeuvre was further immortalised in the 2015 film Woman in Gold, which told the remarkable restitution story behind the Bloch-Bauer Klimts — Birch Forest (1903), Houses at Unterach on the Attersee (c.1916), Apple Tree I (1912), Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I (1907) and Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer II (1912). Seized by Nazi authorities in the days following the Austrian Anschluss in March 1938, in 2006 they were returned to the heirs of Adele and Ferdinand Bloch-Bauer after a seven-year legal battle. Four were offered at Christie's in New York in November 2006 and the iconic ‘golden’ portrait, Adele Bloch-Bauer I, now hangs in the Neue Galerie, New York.
In 2022, Birch Forest returned to the auction block at Christie’s as part of Visionary: The Paul G. Allen Collection, achieving $104,585,000 — a world record price for the artist at auction.
Stehender Mädchenakt nach links, die Haare mit den Händen haltend (Standing Female Nude Turning Left, Holding her Hair)
Sitzender Halbakt, die Arme auf das linke Knie gelegt, study for 'Die Jungfrau'
Stehend von vorne mit kleiner Wendung nach links (Margaret Stonborough-Wittgenstein)
Stehend mit erhobenem Unterarmen nach rechts (Studie für die Tänzerin/Die Erwartung)
Stehend nach links, Skizze des Kragens von hinten; Study for Adele Bloch-Bauer portrait
Schreitende (Die rechte Hand an der Schulter, das Gesicht im Dreiviertelprofil)