Spring Landscape

Artist: John Henry Twachtman
Spring Landscape, a painting

John Henry Twachtman (1853-1902) Spring Landscape, c. 1900, oil on canvas, 15 x 17 7/8 inches. Brigham Young University Museum of Art, gift of Dr. and Mrs. Milton Woods.

Commentary by Mark Graham
Associate Professor of Visual Arts

Twachtman loved to paint snow, but in this landscape he had to handle green, the most difficult of all colors to control. And in New England, green predominates in the spring. Green is the most difficult color and trees are the most difficult subjects. Trees are difficult, first because they are green, and then because they have so many leaves and holes, holes for the air and for the birds. Yet they also maintain a sense of solid shape. Of all the complicated situations that a painter must face, painting trees against a light sky is most challenging. It is a disaster to get green in the sky, yet the painter must paint the tree with the sky behind it. In the case of Twachtman’s Spring Landscape, both sky and trees at the same time, making it is difficult to keep the paint unmuddied. Twachtman has massed the light trees in the distance as simple overlapping shapes, and created dark silhouettes that suggest both the shape of the trees, and the presence of leaves.

The effect is light on a spring day, with dark trees in shadow contrasting with the light on the meadow in the background. The foreground shadow stays together, a stage for the warm yellow light behind it. Yet, at the same time it is full of color nuances of variations of green using ochre and orange, but all within a close value range. The horizontal shapes of the foreground shadow and the bands of distant light are punctuated by the vertical lines of the tree trunks. This is just how a spring day in Connecticut feels.

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