A quarter of all of Gustav Klimt’s paintings were landscapes. When I finally saw them all at an exhibition at the Sterling Clark Museum in Williamstown, Massachusetts, what struck me most was their flatness — even Bonnard’s landscapes recedes more into space. Klimt did not paint panoramas, but rather simple motifs: gardens, meadows with fruit trees, farmhouses surrounded by lush vegetation, and details of the lake and its shoreline. Perhaps it is not surprising that the landscapes appeared flat, considering the decorative nature of his other paintings, but it soon became apparent that something else was at work here. Klimt used a variety of viewfinders; initially, a simple piece of cardboard with a hole cut out of it, and later an ivory plate or an opera glass. [austria.info/uk/art-culture]
He also used a telescope. He would stand on one side of the lake and look through it to the opposite shore. The telescope made the landscape appear flat. Klimt used the pointillist’s mark to create his landscapes. However, he did not use it in the same way as the pointillists did, to optically mix colors. His landscapes were organized into blocks of colors and shapes.
Klimpt with Telescope
When you examine one of Klimt’s landscapes close up, a couple of things become apparent. First, he leaves a fair amount of the canvas showing through. And, he frequently outlines things, like the edge of flowers or leaves. I have seen Joseph Raffael do a similar thing in his watercolors. It seems that, especially with watercolors, if you let the edge of, say a leaf, just be the place where the color ends, your whole sense of the leaf as an object disappears, something seems quite off about it. Reinforcing the edge with a line helps it hold its space. This was most obvious in Klimt’s paintings of flowers.
Here is a short video of Joseph Raffael fine tuning one of his watercolors.
Raffael’s extensive use of color and his ability to achieve complex color combinations in print is what most interested me. In printmaking you have to think reductively, achieving many colors through the use of a few. Each plate that you make is a different color. So, when you make the yellow plate, you have to put yellow not only where there is yellow, but also where there is orange (red and yellow) and green (blue and yellow) and brown (degrees of all three colors). Sadly, but perhaps wisely, Raffael, who is in his eighties, was unable to see me, as he prefers to use all his time for his painting.
While there, I visited the Bonnard Museum in Le Cannet, which opened in 2011. The museum occupies a restored 895 square-foot Belle Epoque villa that organizers saved from demolition. Currently, it has a permanent collection of approximately 150 works, including posters, drawings, sculptures, photographs, and 15 oil paintings, the vast majority of which were completed at Le Bosquet, according to the Financial Times. The museum is run by the municipality, and the majority of its funds came from a €2m fund, long-term loans and donations from the Meyer Foundation and Bonnard’s great-grandniece Isabelle Terrasse. [Julia Halperin]
Pierre Bonnard, “Nu”, lithograph
There I found a very successful lithograph. Like the prints of Raffael, it had both the light and intense color of a Bonnard painting. I noticed that he had enhanced the print with gouache. This didn’t surprise me as Bonnard was famous for retouching his work. In fact, Picasso once remarked:
“Another thing I hold against Bonnard, is the way he fills up the whole picture surface, to form a continuous field, with a kind of imperceptible quivering, touch by touch, centimeter by centimeter, but with a total absence of contrast. There’s never a juxtaposition of black and white, of square and circle, sharp point and curve. It’s an extremely orchestrated surface developed like an organic whole, but you never once get the big clash of the cymbals which that kind of strong contrast provides.”
What Picasso hated about Bonnard, is, I believe, what the rest of us love about him. There was much here for me to carry away, as I think about how I will approach my own prints.
I am looking at lots of prints now, especially prints by painters, as I research ways that others have used the medium. Is there anyone you would recommend that I look at?