Tree of Life, Stoclet Frieze, 1909
Gustav Klimt 1862-1918
About the Art
Klimt’s representation of “Tree of Life” is an important symbol in nearly every culture. With its branches reaching into the sky, and roots deep in the earth, it dwells in three worlds- a link between the Heavens, the Earth, and the Underworld, uniting above and below. It is both a feminine symbol, softly bearing sustenance, and a masculine, visibly phallic symbol- forming another union. Looking closely, the swirling, concentric branches draw us deep into the painting, where we see Klimt’s multiple, varied symbols therin, including geometric leaves and fruits, as well as flowers on the ground, that appear as eyes peering back at us. Of note is the gorgeous bird in the right center, set apart from all other detail by its darkness. Some say it is an owl, representing wisdom, or, more likely, a raven, representing death. As a print, the work is often split into three images, with the figure on the left titled, “Expectation” and the two on the right, “Fulfillment.”
About the Artist
Gustav Klimt was a Viennese painter and the founder of the Vienna Secession, the Austrian Art Nouveau movement. His early work, consisting principally of large murals for theaters, was painted in an unremarkable naturalistic style.
After 1898, Klimt’s work moved toward greater innovation and imagination, taking on a more decorative, symbolic aspect. He continued to paint murals, but the harsh public criticism of the three murals Philosophy, Medicine, and Jurisprudence led him to concentrate on panel painting. Klimt’s best-known works are his later portraits, such as Frau Fritsa Reidler, with their flat, unshadowed surfaces, translucent, mosaic colors and forms, and sinuous, curling background lines and patterns.
Among his most admired works is the series of mosaic murals (1905-1909) in the Palais Stoclet, an opulent private mansion in Brussels designed by the architect Josef Hoffmann, who was also a member of the Vienna Secession movement.