Sunday in the Park with Gustav

Klimt's landscapes

When painting natural vistas, Gustav Klimt (1862-1918) captured only scenes of summer and autumn. In 1897, theyear he helped found the Vienna Secession, Klimt began summering on Lake Attersee, in Upper Austria. There he made his first landscapes—shimmering, color-drenched canvases influenced by the aesthetic innovations of Georges Seurat and the Post-Impressionists. People think of Klimt as the quintessential Viennese bohemian, the portraitist who gave us such iconic works as The Kiss and the Beethoven Frieze; his decorative erotic nudes are infamous. Until now, his landscapes have been left in the background. Redressing that neglect, the Clark Art Institute, in bucolic Williamstown, Massachusetts, has mounted Gustav Klimt: Landscapes (through September 2), the first show devoted exclusively to this part of the artist's oeuvre.

The atypically meditative landscapes (like Avenue in Schloss Kammer Park) represent nearly a quarter of Klimt's output from the final 20years of his life—his most creative period. A notorious ladies' man, Klimt in his portraits offered a running tally of his conquests. In the landscapes, however, he dispensed with such embellishments as gold leaf, employing instead stippling brush strokes and harmonious juxtapositions of color in compositions as absorbing as a meadow in bloom. These canvases provide a glimpse into the soul of the tempter.