Thursday, 2 May 2013


Throughout the ages, artists have enjoyed painting woodland scenes.  Today's modern painters' works, however, are a far cry from the woodland scenes of the painters of old.

Here is an example of an "old" woodland scene, painted by George Baret the elder (what a name!), 1723-1784.

I am sure we could not fault those trees...but to my eye, despite its probable accuracy, it is stodgy,  heavy and gloomy.

More modern painters have treated woodland scenes in quite a different way, and I would like to show you a few of my favourites, so that you can see, perhaps, a different "path through the trees" for your own work.

Lawrence Gowing says that he returns time and time again to certain woodland areas to paint.  He loves groves of trees, with branches meeting overhead, like columns of Gothic arches in a "cathedral of trees".  His woodland scenes are often concerned with a ceiling of leaves, making an enclosed space often leading to a further space beyond.  He makes small "sketch" paintings as rehearsals for larger paintings.  He says he tries to "paint the scoop of space without losing the flatness of the painting surface". Sometimes this results in very abstracted images, the motif having been just a starting point.  "Gifords Copse", the oil painting below, is one such image.

Giford's Copse

The painting "Four Trees in a Wood" 1987, below, also has a really contemporary feel to it, and to my mind, it is interesting to consider why.  Is it the colours ?  They are certainly of his own choosing and bear little resemblance to reality.    Is it the brushstrokes?  What makes it look so modern and such a far cry from the woodland scene of Mr Baret above?  If you look at it very carefully and closely, you will see that in fact, although not such an obvious abstraction as "Giford's Copse", the marks he has used are flat and two dimensional, there is little attempt to achieve three-dimensional form;  the tree trunk of the tree on the far right bears no resemblance to photographic reality whatsoever.  Yet, we recognise perfectly that it is a woodland scene and we understand it fully.

Here is another  woodland scene I have long admired:  Roger De Grey, "La Tremblade" 1989.  It is owned by the Royal Academy of Arts in London, and I wish it was mine!  I just love it.

When I first saw this painting, I was fascinated by the fact that there is little or no recession created by the conventional method of tones becoming paler in the distance.  Instead, the recession is created purely by change of scale.  The artist complains that he find trees "baffling things to work with" and difficult to paint, and spends hours, apparently, trying to make the trees in his paintings seem to grow out of the ground properly.  Clearly, those hours are well spent.

I cannot begin to compare to these masters above, but here is one of my own personal favourites, painted within a couple of hours at a demonstration evening for an art club. It was a bit of a departure for me, since I used imaginative colour, and allowed the painting to hover between representation and abstraction.  But, I hope you will feel it is still an interesting woodland scene even if it owes little to photographic reality!

and this one perhaps does have a little more to do with a "real" woodland scene, although again, I did allow myself some artistic licence with the colours chosen, borrowing some of the gorgeous cool turquoise greens that Lawrence Gowing used - they seemed appropriate to the cool early days of Spring.  It is important, I feel, to remember that creating a painting is not just about  faithfully"duplicating"  the real is about creating something special.... a piece of art which connects with personal vision.

"Spring woods"  pastel on card  21x21cm
available, unframed (mounted) price $295

Arguably, it was from Monet and Cezanne that the landscape painting of this century developed.  Gradually, artists began to give themselves even more permission to try different ways of seeing and painting and expressing their relationship with the landscape. They recognised that the recording of every leaf or tiny branch of a tree may well lead to a rather tedious, lifeless image (and anyway, the camera can do it better) - and they knew that the exploitation of shapes, masses, rhythms, colours, textures and movement can produce far more exciting imagery.   The degree to which an artist transforms the landscape, to express his feelings, is entirely personal and can vary dramatically, but one thing is for a result our own mood and personality will inevitably be revealed in our paintings. 

 Two people, standing shoulder to shoulder, can photograph the same scene, and their photos will look virtually identical...but no two artists will ever paint the same scene in exactly the same way, even if they are painting side by side.  This is something we artists need to recognise - and capitalise upon.


  1. I really loved this post and all your thoughts!! The scene's you chose to use to illustrate your thoughts were also wonderful, and did the job well. Your blog really means a lot to me--I will never met you ,sadly, but I do love reading all you might have to say!!!

  2. You are right. The first picture seems rather gloomy compared to the rest. Yours look like they fit quite well in the collection here!


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