Klimt’s Still Pond (1899) is a rare early work demonstrating the formation of the artist’s style and signaling a break between his early paintings and the exquisite and idiosyncratic art nouveau decadence of his Gold period. In 1897, still a young artist, Klimt capitalized on his commercial success by founding a group of national artists of varied disciplines. The group took the name of the Vienna Secession after their departure from the only notable artistic society in Vienna at the time. Welcoming young, old, experimental, and conservative artists, the aim of the group of painters, sculptors, and architects was to achieve a pure form of national expression untainted by the needs of the commercial sphere. The group held their first exhibition in 1898 where a Symbolist named Fernand Khnopff exhibited a work titled Still Water. Brooding and muted, the work is a reproduction of the lights of the sky reflected in the clear waters. Khnopff’s painting made such a great impression on the contemporary audience and the Vienna Secession that Klimt painted his own version a year later.
Like Khnopff’s, Klimt’s Still Pond uses the dominance of the mirrored image in the water as the primary axis for the work, absorbing the sky above and asserting dominance over the image. The title itself is playful as the electricity of the shimmering light causes the work to appear as anything but still. For Klimt the countryside was a place of energy and life, as resistant as he was to the hectic, distracting world of Viennese high society. The artist had his studios in rural locations and took annual summer holidays at Lake Attersee and the unpredictable weather would often halt his plans and mark his landscapes with somber, overcast tones. When compared with the serenity and ecstatic longing of his Gold period portraits, Klimt’s landscapes are deeply private, complex, and unrestrained achievements.
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