Apple Tree I, 1912 by Gustav Klimt

At first glance Klimt's landscapes would seem to show a smoother line of development than his figural works. While they evidence a parallel transition from silky Impressionism to the more crystalline painted mosaic style, the latter phase is not distinguished by the rigid geometricity and harsh metallic colors found in the portraits and allegories. Klimt's passage into his last, most painterly period thus also transpired more organically in the landscapes, for the landscapes had never altogether succumbed to the linearity of the middle stage. In fact, it may be said that landscape was the wellspring from which much of his revitalized later art sprang, and even his portraits benefited from spatial devices perfected in this genre.

Klimt was a master of tricks that simultaneously created and destroyed the illusion of depth, and in a painting such as Apple Tree I, one can logically distinguish at least four distinct planes: the larger flowers in the foreground, the field between them and the tree, the tree itself, and the lush foliage beyond. Yet the overall pattern of brushstroke insistently informs us that this is a sham, the painting is as flat as the canvas that supports it. Such deliberate manipulation of the picture plane catered to the abstractionist tendencies that had always been inherent in Klimt's approach to landscape. Indeed, whereas in his portraits convention (not to mention the sitter's vanity) demanded a persistent loyalty to volumetric verisimilitude, Klimt in his landscapes was freer both in his manner of seeing and in his ultimate goals. The landscapes (with no one to please but Klimt himself) are the most purely artistic works in his oeuvre, evidencing a painter's delight in form, color, and texture for their own sakes. Particularly in his more abstract late landscapes, Klimt achieved a unity of conception that brings these works, like the last landscapes of Claude Monet, to the very forefront of Modernism.