“Paint the Tree Anyway You Wish but Get the Tree” (John F. Carlson)

My Easel
Yellow Tree, 12” x 9”, Oil on Panel

I was having coffee with a couple of friends and one asked what I was painting now. I said I was focusing on trees. She said, Oh, I just love trees.” And so do I, however they can bring a frown on my face when I’m out of doors painting them. In my plein air work I sometimes get distracted by the sky or water and give them less consideration. The tree above is my recent attempt at paying more attention to shape and form. Letting the tree be enough. My brain has it’s own image of a tree without really understanding the tree I’m painting in front of me.

Wheat Fields by Jacob van Ruisdael, 1670, 39" x 51"

Wheat Fields by Jacob van Ruisdael, 1670, 39″ x 51″
I have been inspired by tree paintings from artist of years past. One is Jacob Van Ruisdale. The painting above is often hanging on the walls of the Metropolitan in NY. I also remember an art history professor at Hunter [Reynolds, I believe] who made this 17th c Dutch artist come alive when he talked about how trees in Ruisdale landscapes were animated and alive. Trees have been described as the figurative in landscape.

Village in the Valley by Chauncey Ryder

Village in the Valley by Chauncey Ryder
Chauncy Ryder, an 18th c. artist is a new find for me. He does magnificent trees. Above is not the greatest image so take time to look him up.

Flower Orchard by Van Gogh
Autumn Trees by Egon Schiele

The two paintings above are probably recognizable to some. The one on the left is Van Gogh’s Flower Orchard, 1888 [28” x 21”] and the other is by Egon Schiele called Autumn Trees painted in 1911 [31” x 31”]. I have long admired Van Gogh’s landscape paintings and the landscape pen and ink drawings are exceptional. Schiele did some interesting landscapes, few of which I’ve seen in person. The painting here is in a collection outside the United States but I often looked at it in a book on Schiele I have published by Braziller. More abstract, effectively dividing up the picture plane and concerned with constructing an interesting idea.

Hemlock by Joan Mitchell

Hemlock by Joan Mitchell, 1956
Finally I wanted to include this Joan Mitchell painting, Hemlock, which I remember well at her retrospective at the Whitney in 2002. Big at 91” x 80”, it makes a case for the above quote from Carlson. An early work, done in 1956 one can still see the figure/ground relationship. And a quick note, because of Mitchell’s frenetic energetic paint handling I was curious about hemlock. I found out the herb not the tree is poisonous.

It seemed to me these artists did express the tree in the tree painting, its journey, route and survival. Do you have a favorite tree painting?

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