September 19, 2011

Painting Autumn

Winslow Homer, On the Trail, 1892; watercolor, 12 5/8 x 19 7/8 inches.

A man and his dogs, hunting, move through the dappled color of the autumn woods. This painting gets so close to the feeling of being surrounded by the sparkling flashes of yellowing leaves during later fall in my local woods, when the beeches are in their glory.

Frederic Church, Birch Trees in Autumn, 1865; oil on paperboard, 12 x 7 5/8 inches.

We are easing into the color of fall here in northern Vermont, and Church's oil sketch, with its dabs of color in a sea of green, deep against the white columns of birches, capture this time perfectly. Since this most spectacular of the seasons is upon us, especially in the Northeastern US, I thought I'd gather a few painted images of autumn, by American artists, photographed from books on my shelf.

Thomas Chambers, The Connecticut Valley, mid-19th century; oil on canvas, 18 x 24 inches.

I have a very soft spot in my heart for the paintings of Thomas Chambers; they are "naive" to be sure, but have such a strength of vision, quirky and appealing. The wacky red and green covered hill puts the color of fall leaves at center stage, with a peaceable kingdom of river and fields as backdrop.

Thomas Cole, Kaaterskill Falls, 1826; oil on canvas, 43 x 36 inches.

The Hudson River painter Thomas Cole paints a more conventional, romantic view of the Kaaterskill Falls in the Catskill mountains, though at the time this was an untamed landscape, a place to think of God in nature....

Albert Bierstdt, Eastern Landscape, 1859; oil on canvas, 20 x 28 inches.

while Bierstadt, who we ordinarily associate with the wild grandeur of the American west, here paints a quiet domestic scene, with the peace and plenty of the fall harvest season.

Samuel Colman, Landscape: Looking Across Country at Irvington-on-Hudson, 1866; oil on canvas glued to matboard, 9 1/4 x 16 15/16 inches.

Here is another fresh, delightful sketch of a time of year when pastures are vivid green and the trees are showing their warm hues.

George Inness, Spirit of Autumn, 1891; oil on canvas, 30 x 45 inches.

The lush color and soft, moist light, repeated in the foreground water, make this painting a poetic vision of autumn, as though remembered in a dream.

Charles Burchfield, Autumnal Fantasy, 1917-1944; watercolor on paper, 37 x 52 1/2 inches.

When I look at this intensely personal landscape, one full of spiritual light, I can't help but feel that the strongest element in it is sound: those black chevrons emanating from tree trunks and branches seem to me, as I sit here typing, to be the loud buzz of cicadas announcing the end of summer that I hear outside my door. The all-enveloping light, seen through an evening mist, the color of remaining leaves and those that spiral down, the racket of the bluejays and hum of insects, all combine into as real a picture of autumn as it's possible to imagine.


  1. You might also like the paintings of Bruno Liljefors

    A wonderful Swedish painter.

  2. I like the Church painting, so simple compared to his massive landscapes.

  3. thanks, mlp, not quite my cup of tea though.
    Ms. Wis., Church's oil sketches are very different from his big machine paintings, fresh and alive. I have an old catalog of these sketches that he did on site locally and on his many long journeys.

  4. enjoyed your series here Altoon & esp your words about the Burchfield & sound. I've been noticing the crow and the blue jay lately as harbingers of autumn, the sounds alone bring back such flavor of autumns past.

  5. So glad you included one of my favorites, George Inness!

  6. I like the dogs the best. I could hear them barking, announcing their favorite time of the year. Oh no, maybe it is because it is my favorite time of the year. :)

  7. thanks, rappel, Debbie and Lisa, for the comments. We each have our favorites, but they all add up to a picture of a season.
    rappel, the crows have been making a racket around here all summer long, though they didn't used to do thaT>