Austrian painter Gustaf Klimt primarily painted the female figure, but, ironically, he’s best-known for one of his landscapes, The Tree of Life. Painted during his Golden Phase, during which he applied gold paint and occasionally actual gold leaf to his paintings, The Tree of Life was completed in 1905, and is by far the most recognizable of all of Klimt’s works.
His subject, The Tree of Life, can be found in many religious, mythological, and philosophical works. Thought to symbolize the connection between heaven, earth, and the underworld, The Tree of Life is the only landscape Klimt painted in his Golden Phase. The work features extensive gold, thought a heavenly color, and a black bird, the symbol of death, which supports this interpretation. However, critics have argued that Klimt’s version could also signify the compliment between male and female or the marriage of wisdom and beauty. We can all agree that the painting encourages a thoughtful study of its meaning, which is likely different to all who view it.
Klimt, who was influenced by Japanese art and methods, uses shapes, colors, and lines with extreme intentionality to create his whimsical work. Your students can explore his techniques and create their own Trees of Life with our lesson plan, Tree of Life: Glitter and Gold.
Beginning with a sketch, students will use paint brush pens, metallic markers, and glitter markers to trace various elements, experimenting with various strokes to achieve soft, flowing lines. They’ll add elements of color and detail, finally filling in their trees with glitter. Conclude your lesson by asking your students to share their interpretations of the tree – you may be surprised by their insight.
Click to view this lesson plan, including step-by-step instructions, a complete materials list, and a photo of a finished piece.
For grades 4-8.