Birch Forest I, 1902 by Gustav Klimt

Klimt seems to have felt tranquil in the middle of forests. Although the trunks are cut off by the top of the canvas, the composition is not claustrophobic. Rather, the trees reach up to the sky like columns in a cathedral created by nature. The central European countries had a long tradition of allegorical paintings of the forest. Albrecht Altdorfer (1480 - 1538) painted the first pure landscape, with towering pine trees reaching up out of the picture frame, dwarfing any sense of human scale. The rich heritage of folklore based around the forest, including Grimm's fairy tales, may also have struck a chord with Klimt.

Rather than dwell on the mysterious, dark nature of the forest, Klimt has chosen an apparently autumnal scene, where the colours of the leaves naturally tend towards the golden tones he favoured. The tiny dabs of paint achieve a shimmering effect of light, far from the reality of dank and gloom, while the patterning of the trunks across the width of the canvas hints at a musical rhythm.