Klimt Inspired Trees

Term: 2 Year: 2012

Melbourne Montessori School 9 to 12 Year Children's Paintings after Gustav Klimt’s Forest of Firs, 1901:

In September last year during the last week of Term 3, the 9 to 12 year old children attending art class at MMS visited the NGV’s, Vienna: Art and Design – Klimt, Schiele, Hoffman and Loos Exhibition. In preparation for this excursion the children began the year in art class by looking at and painting their own interpretation of a particular landscape painted by Gustav Klimt in the early 1900s. The children learnt that Gustav Klimt (1862-1918) relaxed each summer at his sister-in-law’s picturesque family property at Attersee outside Vienna. There he painted with a free hand and style without the usual preliminary studies or sketches. The students were then encouraged to relax and paint straight onto paper after practising each specific skill first on small sheets. It is not always easy for some children to commit immediately to paper and this is a way of easing them into it. Like his many other state commissioned friezes and later portraits of wealthy patrons’ wives, these landscapes were full of jewel-like pattern and detail. This specific art concept developed as a continuous theme as the focus throughout the year for these children’s art work was pattern.

The children looked closely at Klimt’s Forest of Firs, 1901. They heard Egon Schiele’s description of his visit to Klimt’s studio where he encountered Japanese woodblock prints and Chinese paintings amongst many other objects crowded into the small room. They noted how the Japanese and Chinese masters influenced the flat surfaces, cropped and spare compositions and frequent use of empty negative space in Klimt’s landscapes. Like the Japanese masters, the children were asked to sit and prepare their working space with order and beauty, to hold their brush so that they could get the most possible movement and to focus on only the paint, paper and most importantly, the brush stroke. The children were read stories set deep in European forests. Forest imagery as described in Charles Perrault’s Sleeping Beauty and the Greek myth Hermes and the Cattle of Apollo added to the mystique and enchantment of their forest paintings. The children discussed their responses to the foreboding and haunting quality of Klimt’s Fir Forest and how he used the colours of his paint, people less composition and square format to achieve this.

The children painted their foregrounds with detailed pointilist brush strokes in muted tones and discussed and practised the colours of paint required to do this. They focused on long, continuous brush strokes travelling from the horizon line up to the edge of their paper, like the Japanese Masters. Later, they added patterning and texture in autumn tones with a limited palette, like Klimt. They also went outside to paint tree trunks from nature, like Klimt. Cutting and collaging this work together to form balanced compositions was a painstaking and disciplined exercise for those who had chosen to paint thin trunks and branches.

To aid understanding, the children needed to learn a set of ideas, vocabulary and concepts to be able to discuss and analyse Klimt’s work so that they could incorporate some of these inventions in their own paintings. The children enjoyed this first introduction to Klimt’s work and made the most of new opportunities to experiment with and consolidate new skills and concepts to aid their self-expression.

Jennie Schoenfeld
Melbourne Montessori School
Suitable for Level 6 – VCE