Klimt Landscape Show Is More, and Less, Than Expected

Klimt Landscape Show Is More, and Less, Than Expected

Among the more fascinating inclusions are 31 of the 50 small collotype photographs from the portfolio “Das Werk von Gustav Klimt” — divided among the show’s three galleries. They float in the background, forming a sotto voce review of Klimt’s painting career. Here you’ll find more of his transitional landscapes from the late 1890s and recurring compositional devices. One is the isolation of a vertical cluster of figures or flowers at the centers of the some paintings, whether landscapes like “Sunflower,” or one of his most famous figurative works, “The Kiss.” Collotypes of the two hang side by side in the show’s final gallery.

Some of Klimt’s paintings exist today only in the collotype reproductions. Several originals were destroyed in World War II; others were reworked. For example, Klimt’s portrait of Emilie Flöge from 1902-03, seen here in collotype, was one of his earliest decorative portraits. Sometime after it was photographed for the portfolio, Klimt reworked it, bringing it up to speed with his more recent ones. He intensified the blue, splintered its motifs into finer, more mosaic-like patterns and added the sparkle of silver.

As you proceed through this show, dots connect in visual as well as historical terms. The installation makes it unusually clear that Hoffman’s famous brooches are little gardens with flowers and trees that are in conversation with Klimt’s landscapes — which, like them, are also square, emphasizing their modernity.

You may find another connection of this sort when you reach the show’s third and final gallery, where five of the six late landscapes almost seem to fill the entire space with their dense foliage. Some of the trunks in these pictures have sinuous trunks of brown, splotched green, black and gray.

Between their curves and slightly hallucinatory patterns, they evoke some of Klimt’s portrait subjects and their flowing garments. As if to bear witness to this unexpected connection, Klimt’s unfinished “Portrait of Ria Munk III” (1917-1918) hangs on an adjacent wall, a near life-size image of a dark-haired woman in a loose flowered robe that is roughly penciled in. Behind her bands of flowers variously real or stylized or morphing into decorative objects, a veritable sketch of the Secession-Werkstätte achievement.

I doubt there have been many Klimt exhibitions like this invigorating, fortuitous survey of his life and times, with its an unusually effective use of extreme context. By the time you reach the final gallery to savor the admittedly small group of late landscapes, you may have a different idea of how many paintings are needed to carry a show of this size and still make sense. I did.

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