Trees in 19c British & American Art by Professor Christiana Payne
16 January 2020
Report by Will Vaughan
Christiana Payne, Professor of the History of Art at Oxford Brookes University, has had a distinguished career researching British landscape art and genre painting of the nineteenth century. In recent years she has been exploring the representation of trees and the significance that they had for artists and amateurs in the period. Her recent book, Silent Witnesses; Trees in British Art 1760-1870, focussed on the work of British Artists, but in this lecture she extended the theme to cover American artists of the period as well.Perhaps it was as a reaction to the growing urbanization caused by the Industrial Revolution that artists in the late eighteenth century became increasingly involved in representing the natural world. Trees particularly fascinated them for their nobility and the sense that they were silently bearing witness to the splendours of nature. It is a fascination, Professor Payne reminded us, that has remained with us. This is largely because the problems created by industrialization have not gone away. Indeed they have become greater and more serious, as the present day environmental crisis makes clear to us. From this point of view the tree painters of the nineteenth century can be seen as pioneers of a movement that flourishes amongst us with increasing urgency. While focussing on nineteenth century tree painting, Professor Payne made us aware the continuation of the tradition they promoted, showing a fine tree photograph by contemporary artist Tacita Dean, and making reference to the arborealist group of painters who flourish today in the west country. She also displayed a copy the ‘Charter for Tree, Woods and People’ issued by the Woodland Trust in 2017 to promote the presentation and development of trees at the present time of crisis.
Above all Christiana Payne made us aware of the beauty and skill of tree studies. Prime amongst these, in my opinion, are the wonderful pencil studies made by John Constable, in which he explored the minute features of different species. A dedicated naturalist, Constable was keen to observe the features of individual trees that he knew, particularly those on the banks of his native river Stour, and the stately elms in Old Hall Park East Bergholt.
Once again the Bruton Art Society has enjoyed the pleasure of a talk by Colin Wiggins, former lecturer and curator of special exhibitions at the National Gallery. Colin is well known for the high quality of his lectures, in which he combines entertainment and information in his own unique manner. Last time he spoke to us four years ago, he told of his activities at the National Gallery, in which he encouraged leading contemporary artists like Peter Blake, Sean Scully and Paula Reago to produce works that engaged with major works in the Gallery’s collection. This time he was inviting us to look again at the seasonal theme of Winter Landscapes, with a particular emphasis on snow scenes.
He took us from the earliest representations of snow in the late middle ages – in such exquisite works as the Tres Riches Heures of the Duc de Berry – to fascinating colour explorations of Monet and other Impressionists. He also brought in treatments outside the European tradition, in particular the marvellous winter scenes of Japanese woodcut artists like Hokusai.
Printmaker Jackie Curtis gave 12 of our members a really informative & enjoyable couple of days at Hadspen Hall with lots of demos & guidance. She also worked tirelessly turning the press!
It was amazing to see how feathers, leaves, fabrics, leather, string & all sorts of other unlikely stuff can produce such beautiful monoprints. Many such prints were produced by the group; some really stunning.
It was a really worthwhile couple of days and we may well see some of the results from this workshop in our next exhibition!
Plein air pastel painting with Patrick Cullen 19 – 20 September
For anyone who booked a place on this workshop in January, it was an act of faith in the September weather….. but it turned out hot and sunny on both days – vivid blue skies and bright colours. The orchard next to Hadspen Village Hall was laden with ripening rosy apples – a wonderful place to paint.
Patrick has run three workshops for Bruton Art Society now and was extremely diligent in finding us all in the orchard to give guidance and help on the use of pastels. Some of us were complete beginners with this medium and it was a privilege to learn from him.
On both afternoons he took a little time to paint alongside us & it was invaluable to watch him work.
Committee member John Baxter has written an illustrated account of a Somerset Art Weeks exhibition organised by Zak Greening in Wincanton on the site of Clementinas. Called Greening the Earth Gallery, this “stunning new art gallery” particularly appealed to John & he recommends it as a “must see” for Bruton Art Society members. (See link below to read all about it & see his photos of the exhibition)