The Tree of Life, by Gustav Klimt

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Gustav Klimt, born in 1862 in Austria, was most famous for his love of experimentation with several media to create his powerful and bold works, which often were to the distaste of the public due to the erotic and expressive themes of his pieces. Klimt was the first chairperson of the Vienna Secession which was founded in 1897 by multiple artists who resigned from traditional art institutes to protest against the prevailing conservatism and to unite artists who also used non-traditional media to create art. Klimt was said to have created the style of “Art Nouveaux”. “The Tree of Life was created between 1905 and 1909. It exists in two forms; as a mural on a dining room wall in Palais Stoclet, Brussels, Belgium (not open to the public) and as a working sketch at the Museum fuer Angewandte Kunst (Museum of Applied Arts) in Vienna, Austria. This piece was commissioned by Stoclet Frieze, a lover of art. For this piece Klimt used mixed media. “Tempera, watercolor, gold paint, silver-bronze, crayon, pencil, opaque white, gold leaf and silver leaf on paper…” (California State University, East Bay, n.d.). The painting measures 195 x 102 centimeters. Klimt used a palette of bright, vibrant colors, which draws the viewers into the painting and makes them feel part of it. The main focus in this piece appears to be the tree itself, although it is in competition with the vast amount of details it is surrounded by. At first glance, “The Tree of Life” simply appears to be an abstract painting of a tree. In actuality, the theme of this work is considered narrative art. The symbolism of this tree appears in scripture and many cultures around the world. “The Tree of Life” is open to many interpretations depending on each culture. It conveys the circle of life and the connection of all three worlds; the underground, earth, and heaven. “There is also a show of femininity and masculinity in the tree. The tree is able to bear fruit and flowers, which is the show of female fertility while the phallic symbol, which means union, shows the masculine side” (The Meaning Behind the Klimt Tree of Life, 2011). The black bird represents death in many cultures while the tree itself and the eyes included in the painting could be interpreted as symbols of wisdom. During his career Klimt created several narrative art pieces with religious meanings, but his art also included landscapes and the human form, mostly women due to his love for women.

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