February 5, 2013

The Colors of White

White birch trees look so dramatically white with dark woods behind them, but close inspection of their bark shows subtle shifts of pale colors––pinks and yellows––spotted by darks, added to by grays.

Glowing yellow lines bleed into surrounding peeling bark, while lines left behind are less saturated.

Warm white, cool white, yellowish or pinkish or grayish white: today on my walk I was noticing all these hues, and they brought to mind my favorite aspect of Cézanne's still life paintings, their white cloths of many colors. 

Paul Cézanne, Dish of Apples, 1876-77; oil on canvas, 18 1/8 x 21 3/4 in. (Detail)
To see the entire painting in high resolution go to the Met's website

As much as I love the weighty presence of his apples, I love even more how Cézanne describes a white cloth by finding numerous hues within it: cool blues and greens in the shadows, broken by hints of pinky grays and yellows.

Paul Cézanne, Still Life with Apples and a Pot of Primroses, ca.1890; oil on canvas, 28 3/4 x 36 3/8 (Detail) To see the entire painting in high resolution, go to the Met's website

The surface is alive with touches of blues and greens (look at that little squiggle of green at the center). The cloth looks white alongside the heavy orbs of fruit, but like the birch bark, is really full of color, objects seemingly simple, yet rich with complexity.

*click to enlarge the images; you'll be glad you did.


  1. I love seeing these together! The twigs of white birch are very dark, and it is quite something to follow a sapling and observe when it transforms itself from dark to pale.

  2. Wonderful analysis and comparison! Your white birch shots are poetry in themselves. A treat for the eyes!

  3. Thanks for the comments, Susan and Maggie. That dark to light transformation is wonderful in birch. I enjoyed photographing the bark; it's so beautiful.