The first of my renewed “This Week’s Art” articles, where we discuss a particular piece of art, is Vasily Polenov‘ Birchwood Alley (Oil on canvas, 1880). Here’s what it looks like, and click on it for a larger version.
19th century Russian art is something I’ve become more and more intrigued by over the years, and this image is one of the reasons for that. The Russian painters of that era just had a wonderful sense to their pieces. They could be dramatic, or mysterious, or even happy. Even in paintings that are mostly nature, there’s an emotion there that doesn’t always exist with other groups of painters.
I like that the natural world here is somewhat random, because it feels like such a natural area. In many paintings, I get the sense that it’s supposed to represent the forest. In Birchwood Alley, it’s not just a representation, it really feels like the forest should feel. Even without the children at the end of the path, this feels very much like a real place.
Those children add a mystery to this particular piece, which is one of the reasons that I like it. It also opens up the viewer’s imagination, to try and figure out the scene. That’s a great thing in art, and it is something that the best pieces do. Engaging with the audience isn’t always easy, but Polenov makes it easy to be engaged with this painting.
Are the children afraid of the path? Are they waiting at the other end for us to get there? Are they even “there”, so to speak, or are they ghosts of some past event? That’s up to us to feel, to think about as we walk away from the painting.
What do you think?