Gustav Klimt at Lake Attersee

The turquoise waters and lush scenery of Austria’s Lake Attersee attract urban dwellers eager to exchange hot city summers for cool mountain air. The artist Gustav Klimt (1862–1918) refreshed himself at the lake almost every summer between 1900 and 1916.

By Klimt Foundation

On this expedition, we follow the Gustav Klimt Artist Trail to places that inspired Klimt’s art. We’ll also look at the art itself, to appreciate how Klimt transformed the scenes that he observed into masterful landscape paintings.

Lakeside Summers in Litzlberg

Klimt started to vacation on Attersee in August and September, 1900. Every summer, until 1907, he stayed at the small village of Litzlberg, on the northern shore. Klimt vacationed at Lake Attersee with the Flöge family, including his brother’s widow, her young daughter and Emilie Flöge, Klimt’s longstanding companion and muse. 

Lake Views on the Klimt Artist Trail

The Klimt Artist Trail is a walking tour through places Klimt knew from his time at the lake. Along the trail are panels with information about Klimt and square cutouts that frame views. Klimt preferred square canvases. He used square viewfinders cut out of cardboard to frame and compose his works.

Gustav Klimt in a rowing boat on Lake Attersee, photographed by Emma Bacher (1909) by Emma BacherKlimt Foundation

Klimt’s Artistic Revolt

Klimt began visiting Attersee at a turning point in his career. He had achieved success with commissions for public buildings. But some of his recent public work had been attacked by critics. He resolved to pursue his personal vision and painted the landscapes at Attersee only to satisfy himself. 

On Lake Attersee (1900) by Gustav KlimtLeopold Museum

On Lake Attersee, 1900

In his waterscapes, Klimt focuses on colour and texture with such a degree of detail that the painting appears almost abstract. He depicts the water surface with hundreds of planes in subtle variations of colour, evoking the patterns of light upon the water and the water’s reflections of clouds.

Relaxation and Inspiration

Klimt’s daily routine at Litzlberg included an early morning session of painting, a swim in the lake, more painting, lunch, a nap, more swimming or rowing, a snack, and more painting until supper. This spot on the waterfront was one of Klimt’s favourites, because of its view of Schloss Kammer.

Gardens of Earthly Delight

Litzlberg is seamlessly integrated into the surrounding countryside. Village houses have gardens with richly coloured flowers and fruits that enchanted Klimt. The gardens project harmony, peace, and abundance—qualities that Klimt captured in his art. 

An unknown gentleman, Emilie Flöge, Gustav Klimt, Therese Flöge and Emma Bacher on a jetty in Litzlberg am Attersee, in a rowboat Rudolf Schuh with Paul Bacher (1904) by Emma BacherKlimt Foundation

Seehof

In Litzlberg, Klimt and the Flöge family stayed at the guesthouse of the Litzlberg Brewery, where Klimt painted some of his best-known landscapes. The brewery and guesthouse no longer operate, but the neighbourhood retains many of the scenes that inspired the artist. 

Emilie Flöge, Gustav Klimt and Eleonore Zimpel in Litzlberg at the Attersee (1905)Belvedere

Gustav and Emilie in a Litzlberg Garden

This 1905 photo shows Klimt with Emilie Flöge, a dress designer who advocated “reform dress”—flowing robes to replace the restrictive women’s clothing of the time. Flöge’s love of fabrics is reflected in Klimt’s paintings, many of which contain patterns that resemble printed fabrics. 

Seehof Kapelle, Litzlberg

This small chapel appears in two Klimt landscapes. It’s located at the southern end of Litzlberg’s public waterfront park, near the Wageneder Restaurant. The poplar tree that stands next to the chapel in Klimt’s time was lost in 1928, but the newer tree allows visitors to reconstruct Klimt’s viewpoint. 

Preserving an Artistic Icon

Seehof Kapelle still stands because of an extraordinary community effort to preserve it. The structure was in danger of being demolished in 1988, when the Wageneder Restaurant was under construction. Concerned Litzlberg citizens raised money for its restoration.

The Large Poplar II (Gathering Storm) (1903) by Gustav KlimtLeopold Museum

The Large Poplar II (Gathering Storm), 1903

Klimt’s vision of the tiny Seehof Kappelle and the towering poplar tree shows his skill in evoking emotions through art. The sky is dark and ominous, but warm tones in the clouds and the blazing poplar leaves suggest hopeful infusions of sunlight. 

Gerlhamer Moor, nature reserve

Two kilometres north of Litzlberg, an easy hike or bike ride from Lake Attersee, the reserve contains woodlands, open meadows, and bogs, as well as the remains of prehistoric human settlements. One of Klimt’s favourite places to walk, meditate, and paint, he also explored nearby farms and orchards, creating a series of landscapes as rich in their variety as the scenery itself. 

Landscapes of the countryside

Inspired by his walks, Klimt produced landscapes of fruit trees, farmhouses, gardens, and meadows. Among his most optimistic works, their bright colours and gentle contours celebrate peace and abundance and convey the sense of the land basking in the sunlight. 

Retreat to the Forest

We are exploring a forested area on Gerlhamer Moor. The trail draws us back through the centuries, to eras in which most of the moor was covered in forests like these. We can imagine coming across a hermit’s hut or the hermit himself appearing on the path. That’s what local people would have seen early in the 1900s if they had wandered through these same woodlands.

Beech Grove I (1902) by Gustav KlimtNew Masters Gallery, Dresden State Art Collections

Beech Grove, 1902

This landscape painting evokes the refreshing feeling of shade by barely suggesting sunlight on the horizon. Thousands of leaves make the forest floor resemble a carpet. Klimt repeats shapes and colours to create rhythm and a sense of quiet retreat in harmony with nature.

Gustav Klimt in a painter's smock in the backyard garden of his studio in Josefstädter Straße (5.1911) by Moriz NährKlimt Foundation

Waldschrat

Locals gave Klimt the nickname “Forest Demon,” because of his habit of wandering in the woods like a mad monk. Klimt wore a long robe to paint in, even when he was painting in public. This 1911 photograph shows him at his studio on Josefstädter Straße in Vienna looking like the eccentric he was.

Gustav Klimt Centre, Kammer-Shörfling, Lake Attersee

The villages around Attersee still attract summer visitors escaping the city for cool mountain air. Favourite activities include swimming, sailing and hiking along the lake shores. The Centre adds a new opportunity; to experience Attersee through the eyes of the artist who made the lake world famous.

Klimt Art Trail

The Gustav Klimt Centre can be visited while walking along the Artist Trail. Here, visitors can view a video about Klimt, see different artworks by the master and his artistic companions, reproductions of his most famous landscapes, and enjoy gardens blooming with the flowers that appear in his paintings. The centre also has an outdoor café.

Strolling Toward Villa Oleander

The walkway from the Gustav Klimt Centre goes past the Shörfling Marina. Klimt regularly used this route after 1908, when he and his travel companions moved their summer headquarters here. You can see the upper story of the Villa Oleander, where Klimt lived, on the far side of the marina.

Strolling Toward Schloss Kammer

Past the Gustav Klimt Centre, the waterfront path branches to the right, towards Schloss Kammer, a castle that Klimt often painted. You can see walls of the castle through the trees. Klimt painted the park on the approach to Schloss Kammer as well as the castle itself.  

Seewalchen and Schloss Kammer

The Klimt party frequently walked, rowed, and sailed along this stretch of lakefront, through the adjoining villages of Litzlberg, Seewalchen, and Kammer-Schörfling. Klimt was especially impressed by the dramatic views of Schloss Kammer, a fortified waterfront palace. 

The Castle on the Water

Schloss Kammer is a palace at Kammer-Shörfling, on the lake. A fortified house has existed at this spot since the 13th century. The castle was redesigned in 1710 and maintains that design today. The Khevenhüller family owned Schloss Kammer from 1581 to 1903. 

Water Castle (Kammer Chateau near Attersee I) (1908-09/1908-09) by Gustav KlimtNational Gallery Prague

Water Castle, 1908-1909

Klimt’s first landscape of Schloss Kammer is the widest view he painted of the castle. The composition is geometric, with the narrow rectangle of the sky offset by the wider rectangle of the water. Vertical lines are created by the buildings and by their reflections. 

Villa Paulick in Seewalchen, lakeside by Oskar AnratherAustrian National Library

Summers in Seewalchen

Klimt and his companions sometimes stayed in Seewalchen at the Villa Paulick. From the terrace of the villa, Klimt used a telescope to look across to Schloss Kammer. 

The fortified palace of Schloss Kammer

The castle is privately owned and the buildings are only open to the public for special events. The park and walkways around the palace are accessible, however, allowing visitors to replicate part of Gustav Klimt’s experience. The castle grounds are formally planted, reflecting the elegant and symmetrical baroque architecture of the building.

A Baroque Chateau

In 1710 Schloss Kammer was remodelled as a chateau, creating the structures we see today. Through the gate we can see hints of the chateau’s baroque form: its pale yellow walls, red-tiled roof, and graceful lines. The gates have similar curved lines.

Avenue to Schloss Kammer (1912) by Gustav KlimtBelvedere

Avenue in front of Schloss Kammer, 1912

This is the only Klimt painting of the approach to the castle by land. The building’s baroque architecture is suggested with just a few curved lines. Klimt’s treatment of the lime trees reveals the influence of Vincent van Gogh.

Summers in Weissenbach

Klimt, Emilie Flöge, and her family spent summers in Weissenbach, on the southeastern shore of the lake, from 1914 to 1916. The Flöges lived near the waterfront. Klimt lived in a separate cottage in the Weissenbach valley. Together they made steamship excursions to villages around the southern lakeshore and walking expeditions into the nearby mountains.

The Forester’s Lodge

Klimt stayed at this house at the entrance to a small valley. In 1914 Klimt produced two paintings of this building, Forester’s House in Weissenbach and Villa on the Attersee, I. Both paintings feature detailed floral patterns displayed against doors and windows.

Forester's lodge in Weissenbach I (1914) by Gustav KlimtBelvedere

Forester's Lodge in Weissenbach II (Garden), 1914

In this painting Klimt fills the canvas with the house and the lush vegetation, growing up the walls and in plant pots on windowsills. A variety of shades of green interspersed with flashes of purple, yellow, orange and pink evoke a summer's day, even though we can't see the sky.

An Excursion to Unterach

In the summers between 1914 to 1916, Klimt and his companions travelled by steamer, from Weissenbach to other villages, including Unterach, on the southwestern shore. It inspired three landscapes. Klimt made brush drawings of the scenes and indications of the colours at Unterach or through a powerful telescope from the shore at Weissenbach. He then completed the landscapes at his studio in Vienna.

Bust of Gustav Klimt

Klimt’s vision set him apart from other artists of his time. His landscapes combine the abstraction of the Impressionists and Expressionists with formal geometric composition to express the harmony of an idyllic natural world. 

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