Haystacks (Effect of Snow and Sun), 1891, by Claude Monet
In 1891, an exhibit by Claude Monet in the Durand-Ruel gallery in Paris included a series of 15 haystacks. It was unusual at the time for an artist to exhibit so many paintings of the same subject at once, and it was a conscious effort by Monet to make viewers focus on what he was most interested in, the variations of light and color in nature.
In honor of the first day of winter, here are some of the winter haystack paintings. Many painters of the time would sketch outdoors and create the final painting in the comfort of their studio, but not Monet. He would set up his big canvas and paints outside in all seasons, even the freezing cold. Talk about becoming one with nature!
Over his career he made at least 140 winter paintings outside, which is a level of dedication that I think few artists today could match. These tiny reproductions cannot replicate the beauty of the originals, but you can click on each image to see a larger version of the painting. You can learn more about Monet’s haystack series here.
Grainstacks, Snow Effect, 1891, by Claude Monet
Haystack, Morning Snow Effect, 1891, by Claude Monet
Stack of Wheat (Snow Effect, Overcast Day), 1891, by Claude Monet
Wheatstacks, Snow Effect, Morning, 1891, by Claude Monet
Natasha Newton is an artist and illustrator from Suffolk, England, whose work is inspired by the natural world. Birds, trees, stars and mountains all feature prominently in her work, which highlights the elegant patterns and shapes found in nature. There is a strength and beauty to these primal shapes, as they peel back the surface to reveal the essence of the world around us.
Besides her watercolors and acrylic paintings on canvas, she also does beautiful paintings on stones, which seem the perfect fusion of art and nature. She has also created many abstract works inspired by nature.
Her blog is a window into her process and her struggles, and she writes with openness and honesty about her life and work. I was particularly inspired by her post about being brave enough to do your own thing. She writes how it’s tempting to do art that is safe, rather than what you really want to do:
“If you set out with the goal of painting something just because you think it will be popular, you’ll probably find the opposite will happen. But if you make unique work that comes from the heart, there will be someone else out there who loves it as much as you do. At the very least, your authenticity will shine through. And as an artist, that’s probably more important than anything.”
Her abstract art, sold in her Minimal Nature shop, is one example of how she experiments to keep her creativity flowing. She also draws inspiration from her own life. Her recent series of paintings “Birds of Hope” and “Birds of Strength” came out of an ongoing personal crisis that she has written about on her blog, and she created them as a visual reminder to stay hopeful and strong.
You can learn more about Natasha Newton and find links to all her artwork at her website.
Here at The Untended Garden, we feature works both old and new, but this summer I’ll be highlighting contemporary artists who explore nature in their work.
Bianca Ana Chavez is a painter from California who has been inspired by nature all her life. She is currently living in Chiapas, a tropical region in the southernmost part of Mexico that is rich in biodiversity. The area boasts over 700 species of orchids, many of which are in danger from deforestation and poaching.
Working in a local plant shop, Bianca would draw the orchids and plants in her free time, and ended up painting an orchid mural around the outside of the store. She became inspired to study botanical art, and moved to Seattle to pursue a certificate in Natural Science Illustration. Studying at the University of Washington, she traipsed through the woods drawing moss and cicadas, and learning more about the small wonders of nature.
Returning to Mexico, she helped convert the plant shop into an art space inspired by nature, where visitors could draw, take workshops, and hear concerts surrounded by the beautiful flora. The name of the shop is Orchideafilia, which translates to “a love for orchids.”
Below (and above), you can see the mural in progress outside Orchideafilia.
A student taking one of her workshops at the art space:
It’s been a long winter. Cold, snowy, windy, the kind of bone-chilling weather that makes you want to hibernate.
Many artists have painted snowy landscapes through the years, but few measure up to the classic “Hunters in the Snow” by Pieter Brueghel the Elder. Bruegel was a Renaissance painter from the Netherlands, who lived between 1525 and 1569. This magnificent painting is 63 inches wide (160 cm), and manages to portray an entire village in all its lively frozen detail. This is one town that did not hibernate.
You can see this painting even closer with the Google Art Project, where you can zoom in really close on the detail. Here’s the link. The site has hundreds of other paintings that you can view up close, it’s an amazing virtual museum.
I’ve been neglecting this blog for a while, but now that spring is on the horizon, I plan to get back into the swing of things. I’ve got some great posts planned for the coming weeks, so check back again soon!
Chances are you hadn’t heard of Maria Sibylla Merian before she was celebrated by Google on her 366th birthday April 2nd. And yet she was one of the most famous and accomplished naturalists of her day.
She was born in 1647, in Germany. Her father, an engraver and publisher, died when she was three. Her stepfather was a Dutch painter who inspired his young daughter, but left when she was twelve, leaving Maria and her mother on their own. Maria continued her art, taking a special interest in insects, which she would catch and raise so that she could draw them. This would be an unusual habit even for a teenager today, and it was unheard of for a girl in the 17th Century. Her mother must have been wonderfully supportive.
She had a particular interest in the metamorphosis of butterflies, and she studied and documented this process firsthand. She was also very interested in the connection between plants and insects, and often painted insects with the plants that provided food for them. She was also fiercely independent. At the age of 52 and divorced, she took her 16-year-old daughter on a trip to South America to study the plants and insects there. Her daughter followed in her footsteps, continuing her work in South America even as Maria had to return home due to illness.
What I find especially amazing about this artist is her love of insects. Today we do everything we can to eliminate insects from our daily lives. We spray them with poison even at the risk of our own health, despite the fact that insects support our entire ecosystem. And yet she saw something beautiful in them, despite (or perhaps because of) their strange appearance.
The painting at the top of this page appears at first glance to be a simple flower arrangement, but five insects add a wildness that’s surprising and a little unnerving. We expect our flora paintings to be gentle and harmless, we don’t expect them to bite us. But in depicting insects as beautiful works of art, she is inviting us into her world, telling us not to be afraid, that there is much to be celebrated in these little creatures.
Maria Sibylla Merian was ahead of her time in many ways, and we can all be inspired by her life and her work. You can read a lot about her at this website, which has links to many articles and galleries of her work.
Below is a slideshow put together by a fan on YouTube, to the music of Handel.
Autumn Landscape With Four Trees - Vincent van Gogh
Autumn is here once again! The changing of the seasons is a favorite topic here at The Untended Garden, perhaps because so many artists have been inspired by the seasons.
Today I present a famous painting by Vincent Van Gogh, appropriately entitled Autumn Landscape With Four Trees (click the image for a larger view.) What’s most interesting to me about this painting is the ordinariness of the scene. He did not choose a majestic vista or mountaintop, as so many landscape artists do, he chose a clump of very ordinary, almost misshapen trees – one of them has even lost its leaves. And yet the artist saw something beautiful in them, and chose to immortalize this view forever, so that we could all experience this moment the way he did.
Likewise, Emily Dickinson captured her own particular notion of autumn in the poem below. Even though autumn is beautiful, she seems to say, it also portends a passing of time that is not so easily accepted.
* * *
As Summer into Autumn slips
And yet we sooner say
“The Summer” than “the Autumn,” lest
We turn the sun away,
And almost count it an Affront
The presence to concede
Of one however lovely, not
The one that we have loved —
So we evade the charge of Years
On one attempting shy
The Circumvention of the Shaft
Of Life’s Declivity.
As the new year begins, I present for you a poem by John Keats, inspired by a cold winter’s wind but encompassing so much more.
The image I’ve chosen to accompany the poem is a famous one by Casper David Friedrich called “The Wanderer Above the Mists”, painted around 1817. Obviously the artist is captivated by the misty mountains, but then why place a person in the very center of the image, blocking our view? And we can’t see his face, we can only wonder at who he is and what he is thinking. It’s this kind of mystery, along with the expert composition and technique, that make the painting great. There’s a bigger idea at work here, a puzzle that the viewer must unravel.
The poem is also open to interpretation, but I won’t even try to analyze it. I’ll let the poet speak for himself.
* * *
O thou whose face hath felt the Winter’s wind,
Whose eye has seen the snow-clouds hung in mist,
And the black elm tops ‘mong the freezing stars!
To thee the spring will be a harvest time.
O thou whose only book has been the light
Of supreme darkness, which thou feddest on
Night after night, when Phœbus was away!
To thee the spring shall be a triple morn.
O fret not after knowledge. I have none,
And yet my song comes native with the warmth.
O fret not after knowledge! I have none.
And yet the evening listens. He who saddens
At thought of idleness cannot be idle,
And he’s awake who thinks himself asleep.
What exactly is an untended garden? The phrase often has a negative connotation, like Shakespeare’s “unweeded garden” overrun with foul things. We tend to think of nature as something that needs taming, otherwise it will take over and devour us.
But today in our shrinking world, it’s more important for us to understand and get along with the flora and fauna around us, for we’re all in this together – we need each other, whether we like it or not. If they die, we die, it’s as simple as that.
The mission of this blog is to explore how artists, writers, musicians, filmmakers and designers explore nature in their work. And I don’t mean simply how artists depict the beauty of nature, but how they plumb the depths and seek out its essence.
To draw something is to understand it better. Same with writing. I hope by highlighting artists with interesting and unique perspectives on nature, I can bring readers closer to the world around them, and inspire more artists to do the same. The world is an untended garden, but we must tend it carefully lest we kill it in the process.
J.M.W. Turner (1775-1851) was one of the greatest English painters of land and sea, and far ahead of his time. Many of his works are so wrought with raw color and emotion as to be nearly abstract.
The ocean has always been a subject for artists, though I sometimes wonder how far we have come since the 19th Century. Are any painters still exploring nature with the kind of vision that Turner had? I don’t mean just showing the beauty of nature, but really trying to get to the heart of it, to discover new ways of seeing it.
Many seascapes today are happy depictions of sun-soaked waves and smiling dolphins, which is all well and good, but only shows one side of the teeming, turbulent, mysterious ocean. Turner seemed to be searching for something deeper, trying to discover something that no one had ever seen before. One hundred and fifty years later, his paintings are still remarkable.
The Untended Garden explores the connections between art and nature. Each post looks at a different artist or work of art, drawing from books, paintings, music, film, and any other form of expression. Read more about this blog.