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Yesterday in two of our groups we discussed trees in paintings and how monumental they can become as a vehicle to talk about life. We focused on the work of Vincent van Gogh and his works on this theme from around 1888 to 1889. I have used two examples both painted within a year of each other ‘The Pink Peach Tree’ and ‘The Mulberry Tree.’ The paintings of the trees follow a life cycle though Spring and Autumn.

Van Gogh painted many fruit orchards during his first weeks in Arles (FR). There is an earlier, nearly identical version of this painting, which Van Gogh had completed in one sitting. ‘I’d worked on a no. 20 canvas in the open air in an orchard — ploughed lilac field, a reed fence — two pink peach trees against a glorious blue and white sky. Probably the best landscape I’ve done’, he wrote.(Van Gogh Museum).

‘The Mulberry Tree shows a tree from the garden of the asylum. It is centered on the canvas and is growing alone from a rocky hillside. The ground is made up of short quick brush strokes of white and pale browns. It creates a strong contrast to the dark green and brown of the tree trunk. To the right, you see more greens, indicating trees and growth in the distance. The leaves of the tree make up the majority of the painting, orange against the complementary color of the blue sky. It is that “superb autumn” that gave Vincent the bright orange leaves to paint. The ground and sky are made up of mostly straight diagonal brush strokes, while the tree leaves are made up of curling spirals of orange and black, sometimes done with the handle of his brush.The Mulberry Tree by Van Gogh is a great example of his work and shows an interesting insight to his life. His bright colors show his interest in Impressionism, as this painting along with a few others was included in the Société des Artistes Indépendants show in 1890. His life was dedicated to art, and his letters are almost entirely devoted to the subject.

This painting shows his knowledge of color theory, his awareness of the modern direction of painting, and his place in the world. No matter what was happening in his life, whether he was living in a house with a friend, or a patient in a mental hospital, all Van Gogh could do was carry on and paint. ‘ ( Van Gogh Report).

Both pictures are thoughtfully composed and structured both in terms of the internal dynamics of line and the use of colour. Note the use of complimentary colours and the direction of the lines in the compositions.

In ‘The Mulberry Tree’ the viewer is challenged by the artist - have a look at how the clouds at the top left of the painting appear to be on the same plane as the foliage

Our session on Monday will be a drawing / mixed media workshop on this theme. We will be using media - namely charcoal, white emulsion, and acrylic paint. I’ve added a Van Gogh drawing for inspiration.


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