Gustav Klimt’s Tree of Life (1909) from the Stoclet Frieze is a triumph of art nouveau style and substance, unifying the allegories of the Symbolist movement with Byzantine mosaic and devotional works. As with many of his works from the Gold period, Klimt renders the subject flat, with little sense of depth, and reluctant to conform to any simple reproduction of perspective. The artist’s take on the Biblical Tree of Life incorporates essential elements of the Jugendstil style that Klimt’s work of this period emblematizes, a style that foregrounded floral filigree and took influence from the influx of Japanese wood prints and crafts. The two-dimensionality of the work was a radical idiosyncrasy of form that represented the work of Klimt and his artistic group, the Vienna Secessionists.
The Tree of Life (1909) contains a number of the themes most prevalent in Klimt’s work – the ornamental and decorative approach to symbolic space, the erotic, morbid, and living gestures of the human body, the mythological mingling with earthly visions. Owing a debt to art nouveau architecture, furniture design, jewelry, and font-design, The Tree of Life could be said to encapsulate the Gesamtkunstwerk, or ‘total work of art’, that many pan-German artists of the time aspired to create. The Tree of Life was part of the Stoclet Frieze, along with two other mosaics commissioned for the Palais Stoclet in Brussells. Spread across the walls of the Stoclet dining room, the works were created using a range of luxurious materials such as marble, pearls, semi-precious stones, and gilded tiles. The individuals that commissioned the three mosaics were eclectic art lovers whose tastes spanned Byzantine icons to Egyptian sculpture, as well as works from the New World. Klimt’s ability to tailor his form and content to the tastes of his audience is a testament to his range and scope.
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