Trees – The Artists’ Vision

“Well, the day is probably not far off when people will paint the olive tree in every way as they have painted the willow and the Dutch pollarded willow, as they have painted the Norman apple trees since Daubigny and César de Cocq. The effect of daylight, of the sky, means that there is an infinity of motifs to be drawn from the olive tree. I myself looked for some effects of opposition between the changing foliage and the tones of the sky.”

Vincent Van Gogh

In a letter to Joseph Jacob Isaäcson, 25th May 1890.


Van Gogh Olive Trees, Saint Paul de Mausole.


From the same viewpoint, mostly replacements but some trees still the originals painted by Van Gogh.

If art, as it surely is, a reflection on the progressiveness of civilisation, then the fact that trees are as important as landscapes and the human body to artists as a subject matter then surely this should be attributed to all trees as an extra value?

Does the value of a tree which is the subject of the work by a great artist increase? If that tree is still in the landscape can we, should we afford it greater status and protection?


Chaim Soutien, Ash tree, Vence


Still very much alive.

Of the trees clearly identified as the subject of a great work of art, there are varying ideas on how to maintain the trees, if at all.


The above is what remains of Matisse’s fig. The tree was grubbed out, thankfully unsuccessfully by the French government custodians of Matisse’s property!


Matisse 1948


This Pine tree would have been standing in the grounds of Saint-Paul de Mausole at the time Van Gogh was there, it was very likely to have been in one of his paintings. What is the value of this firewood therefore?

In Tolstoy’s estate, Yasnaya Polyana, the birch trees planted by Tolstoy, by hand, have been felled to produce a range of craft products, sold with heavy emphasis on the Tolstoy link in the estate gift shop.


Thomas Girtin. Berry Pomeroy Castle, Totnes


So many people from very different angles are trying to convey the importance and value of trees to humans and all values have to be considered. To further explore the artists vision is surely a valuable addition.

The title of this blog has cheekily been taken from the book Landscapes The Artists’ Vision , the ‘first detailed study’ plotting the landscapes favoured by artists from the mid 18th Century to the 1980’s. This work took several years as compared to my above musings, so my apologies the author Peter Howard, who should forgive me as he is also my father.


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