I was actually doing some searching for a few pieces by Vasily Vereshchagin (who I’ve blogged about before), and I decided to look around a bit at some of the other Russian artists. I came across the piece above, Rain in the Oak Grove by Ivan Shishkin (Oil, 1891), and I knew I’d found a new piece to talk about.
In the day and age of the Thomas Kinkades of the world, it bears remembering that the techniques and ideas of those “modern” landscapes are based fully on those that came before. In most cases (watch out! opinions!) the paintings of the past are far more interesting than the “kinkade” effect of the last decade.
Here is a piece that’s nearly one hundred and twenty years old, but has so much more emotion to it than many similar landscapes of the current age. There’s a palpable sense of being there that Shishkin brings to the piece, and you can easily imagine yourself here, in the forest, wandering quietly behind the other group.
The composition breaks one of the big cardinal rules that you often hear, to stay out of the center of the piece. The idea is that keeping the interesting part of the image in the center makes it less interesting, less dramatic. But I think Shishkin made up for it by keeping the overall image in thirds, and by having the center be so much more inviting. The path, the leaning of the trees, even the leaning of the characters (namely the front runner) all give you a strong sense of direction, as if taking you by the hand and leading you through the forest.
I like the color palette here as well, especially as the piece is about being in the rain. There is a sense of bright colors, and a brighter sky, but there’s also a sense that the color is being gently subdued by the rain. Shishkin really gives a sense that you are in a rainy forest, and the color choices help to quietly nuance the effect.
For me, Shishkin really captures what it’s like to be in nature here. It’s a scene that’s neither too light or too dark, too happy or too sad, or simply too much. Shishkin created an enticing, real-world feeling, where nature isn’t good or bad, but just is. He’s leading you down a nice, gentle path in the rain, and it’s easy enough to follow him.