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Trees on the Water’s Edge

With the modern landscape school which is grouped around Camille Corot, Théodore Rousseau and the painters of the Forest of Fontainebleau, the description of nature becomes a more concrete exercise than it had been in the past. The place of trees in the landscape took on a new meaning: in photography as well as in painting, at times, there are true “portraits of trees” which highlight their uniqueness, such as Le chêne de Flagey* by Gustave Courbet. Many remarkable trees of the Forest of Fontainebleau were given the name of the painter who identified them.

The Impressionist painters’ approach was different: in Jonkind’s studies along the Ourcq, as in the series of Peupliers by Monet along the Epte, and in the views depicted by Caillebotte on the small branch of the Seine at Argenteuil, the motif of the tree line is used to give rhythm to the composition. Repeated by its reflection, this vertical marker divides the space harmoniously. The same scansion can be found as far as the depictions of the exceptional flooding of 1895 that captivated Monet at Giverny and Sisley along the banks of the Loing.

Between Cézanne’s Paysage au bord de l’Oise, contemporaneous with the first Impressionist exhibition and his Maison au bord de la rivière painted twenty years later, the theme of trees changes radically. Abandoning the Impressionist aesthetic, Cézanne uses a limited range of colours, applied with hatching. Trees are used above all for their pictorial mass: their foliage, treated like the banks, is a pretext for studies of matter in which reflections and reality are confused.

* Ornans, musée Courbet

On the Shores of the Loing
Alfred Sisley
On the Shores of the Loing

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