Silent witnesses: Trees in art

17 Nov 2017 – 24 Nov 2017

Regular hours

11:00 – 21:00
11:00 – 18:00
11:00 – 18:00
11:00 – 18:00
11:00 – 18:00
11:00 – 18:00
11:00 – 18:00

Cost of entry

£36 Concessions
£34 Members

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This two-week course explores the depiction of trees and their important role in European art, from the early Renaissance to the late 19th-century


Symbolic, simplified or naturalistic, depictions of trees tell us much about the societies in which they flourished.

On this two-week course, Christiana Payne, who has written many books on landscape painting, explores the depiction of trees and their important role in European art, from the early Renaissance to the late 19th century.

The course involves close-looking at paintings in the National Gallery Collection such as Hobbema’s Avenue at Middleharnis, Constable’s Cornfield and van Gogh’s Wheatfield, with Cypresses.

Week one: 17 November 2017

Real, ideal, and symbolic trees, 1300–1750
From cartoon-like renditions in the 14th century to detailed naturalism in the 15th century, and from the idealised landscapes of Claude to the everyday scenes of Rubens and Hobbema, this session introduces a wide variety of depictions of trees.

2–2.55pm: From symbolic to naturalistic: Trees in 14th and 15th-century paintings

2.55–3.05pm: Comfort break

3.05–4pm: Claude, Rubens, and Hobbema: The real and the ideal

Week two: 23 November 2017

The love of trees, 1750–1900
18th and 19th-century art and literature provides evidence of a widespread love of trees and nature. In this session we explore how trees inspired painters, poets and landscape gardeners, and we take a particular look at trees in the art of the Pre-Raphaelites.

2–2.55pm From Gainsborough and Constable to the Post-Impressionists

2.55–3.05pm: Comfort break

3.05–4pm: Pre-Raphaelite trees and the inspiration of 15th-century painting

Tutor’s biography

Christiana Payne is Professor of History of Art at Oxford Brookes University, where she has been teaching since 1994. Her previous books include 'Where the Sea Meets the Land: Artists on the Coast in Nineteenth-Century Britain' and 'John Brett, Pre-Raphaelite Landscape Painter'. She has curated major exhibitions and displays at the Yale Center for British Art, Tate Britain, and the Royal West of England Academy, Bristol. Her new book, 'Silent Witnesses: Trees in British Art, 1760–1870' comes out in September 2017.

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Exhibiting artistsToggle

John Constable


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