Masterpieces with Single Tree Composition

Fundamentally, all landscape paintings have a focal point, which draws the viewer’s eye to the heart of the paintings composition. For instance (as shown below), the cypress trees serve as the focal point in Vincent van Gogh’s painting ‘Wheat Field and Cypress Trees’, the sun in Claude Monet’s painting ‘Impression’ and the central tree in the painting ‘Banks of the Marne’ by Paul Cezanne.

But what if the composition of the painting comprises of a single tree, the focal point diminishes and the central figure is the lone subject of the painting. Which genre would the artwork fall under – Landscape, subject study or symbolic art? The theme sounds vague, boring and bland but surprisingly this rare composition has been captured beautifully by many master artists. We explore few such masterpieces that aesthetically illustrate this atypical theme.

The Mulberry Tree by Vincent van Gogh-
The isolated tree shown against a rocky terrain has its branches spread out with a blast of fiery colors. Vincent managed to create a magical autumn experience by means of just a single tree.

 

 

Rose bushes under the Trees by Gustav Klimt-
The canvas is like a confetti explosion of various shades of greens and yellows. Klimt’s unique composition of a single tree with rich foliage, depicted with tiny specks of brush strokes is one of his most popular masterpieces.

 

 

The Tree Series by Piet Mondrian-
The solitary trees in the series are depicted in their most basic and simplistic form, true to Mordrian’s art movement ‘De Stijl’ / ’The Style’. Cleverly angled brush strokes, and limited palette void of greens are the unique characteristics of this series.

 

 

The Bonaventure Pine by Paul Signac-
Painted in pointillism style a huge Umbrella Pine tree stretches across the canvas. The subdued background highlights the majestic form and the interesting shape of the tree. Following the pointillism technique of small dots applied in patterns, pixels of lighter tone sprinkled around the tree, suggest sunlight filtering through the leaves, adding a dreamy feel to the painting.

 

 

Autumn trees by Egon Schiele-
The bare lone trees made by the expressionist artists are metamorphic, the series deal with the themes related to death and rebirth. Grey palette, twisted trunk, cloudy sky and entwined branches are a compelling portrayal of a stormy winter, allegorical of misery and loneliness.

 

 

Pine Tree near Aix by Paul Cezanne-
The composition of this artwork differs from the rest, it’s unique and abstract, much like the other artworks of the post impressionist artist. The central figure (i.e. the pine tree) gets cut from all sides and is used as a frame for the painting. The mesh of the branches connecting the sides, combine all the elements to the center of the composition.

 

 

The Oak by Edvard Munch-
The artwork has an interesting color scheme, cool sky tones gradually descend to warm earthy color, diagonally from top left to bottom right. Though the color gradient of the tree is reflected on the background, yet Munch successively managed to highlight the tree as the central figure.

 

 

The Pink Peach Tree by Vincent Van Gogh-
The painting depicts a peach tree in bloom during springtime, despite being painted with subtle and pastel shades the artwork looks vibrant and spirited. The perspective exaggerated by the tapering flow of the brush strokes helps in highlighting the tree as the main subject.

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Th.V. Doesburg, Drei Haeuser by Juan Gris-
The abstract treatment represents the tree as a three-dimensional form viewed from a single perspective. The cubist artist’s composition despite its simplified geometric forms retains the look and feel of a landscape.

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Tree in flower near Vetheuil by Claude Monet-
The father of impressionism’s technique of capturing light and its effect on the color of the object is at play in this painting. The light and shade on the solitary tree are represented brilliantly with precise dabs and dashes of varied tones.

 

 

Little Oak Tree by Franz Marc-
The simplicity of the painting is reminiscent of ‘The Mulberry Tree’ by Vincent van Gogh (first painting on the top), spirals of fresh green leaves are highlighted by the brilliant blue sky and animated strokes of the ground.

 

 

The Fig Tree by Paul Klee-
The lone trees’ composition, monochromatic tones and the arrangement of the colored shapes reflect the artists experience in stain glass.

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L’Arbre (The Tree) by Pablo Picasso-
Picasso’s neutral colored artwork illustrates a stylized tree, with array of bold strokes and distorted shapes, the composition is compact with interlinked forms.

 

 

A Great Tree by  J. W. Turner-
The Watercolor artwork projects a powerful and majestic tree, the composition partly cuts the tree from the sides, highlighting the sunlit part of the tree as the focal point.

 

 

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Yoga: An Art Chronicled

Yoga, as we know it today, is practiced daily by millions of people though very few understand the essence of it. Dating back to the pre-vedic period, Yoga originally was a means of spiritually uniting one with the Divine, within oneself.

To achieve this harmony of mind and body, Yoga has seven primary schools of physical, mental and spiritual disciplines. Today, the Yoga we take pleasure in and identify the most with is Hatha Yoga, which is one of the seven paths, its primarily about physical discipline, the other forms include Raja, Gyana, Bhakti, Karma, Mantra and Tantra Yoga.

ascetic-practicing-yoga

Ascetic practicing various techniques of Yoga (1825)

 

Leaving aside the spiritual aspects of the practice let’s focus on how the physical path ‘Hatha Yoga’ which is most loved and practiced across the world was chronicled down the centuries with beautiful paintings, sculptors and illustrations. Starting from Veda’s, in the course of history there have been numerous textual manuals for Hatha Yoga, most comprehensive being- Hatha Yoga Pradipika and Shiva Samhita. However, unquestionably, humans are visual creatures, illustrative documentation of Yoga was inevitable. Starting 16th century, the visual recording of Hatha Yoga gave result to remarkable artworks.

Bahr al-hayat or Ocean of Life (16th-century)- is the earliest known encyclopedic manuscript with brilliantly illustrated Asanas accompanied with detailed descriptions. Commissioned by the Mughal Emperor Jahangir the creative piece was composed by Sufi master Muhammad Ghawth and illustrated by renowned artist Govardhan. The Sufi masters’ motive was to teach his disciples Hath Yoga to gain meditative power. The artworks depict ash-smeared Yogi’s in various postures complemented with scenic backgrounds and detailed items used by the Yogi’s in their daily life. The miniature drawings follow a subdued palette highlighting the pensive mood and austerities of a Yogic life.

Shown below are few leafs from the manuscript

khecari-and-sthamba-mudra

Khecari and Sthamba Mudra

nad-and-sunasana-mudra

Nad and Sunasana Mudra

uttanakurmasana_akunchan-mudra

Uttanakurmasana and Akunchan Mudra

 

Miniature paintings (17th century)- A rich collection of Miniature paintings of Asana’s based on Hatha Yoga Pradipika, a classic Sanskrit manual on Hatha Yoga. This brilliantly colored manual is graphically impressive with accurate postures paired with well-defined angles.

Shown below are few paintings from the collection

miniature-painting-of_hatha-yoga

miniature-painting_of-hatha-yoga

miniature-painting-of-hatha-yoga

 

Miniature Pahari painting (17th century)- Saptarishi (sons of Brahma) shown in different Yogic postures. Legend has it that Lord Shiva shared his knowledge of Yogic science with seven distinguished rishi’s and laid different characteristics of Yoga into each one of them, these aspects became the seven basic forms of Yoga. Even today, Yoga maintains these seven distinct forms.

the-seven-rishis-saptarishi-indian-miniature-painting

 

Watercolour on paper (17th century)- Lord Shiva, the Adiyogi or the first Yogi, regarded as the founder of Yoga is shown seated in Eight Yogic Postures on a tiger skin, against a green background. Painted in opaque watercolors on paper, the artwork projects a meditative and serene feel.

shiva-in-eight-yogic-postures

 

Murals in the Dalai Lamas’ private meditation temple (17th century): The details of a brilliantly colored and animated mural in the Lukhang temple, or “Temple of the Water Spirits” located in Lhasa, portrays Yogis in 23 Yoga positions with brief description, titled “The Secret Keys of the Channels and Winds.” The temple was a secret space created by the fifth Dalai Lama in the 17th century – and reserved for the private meditation for his successors.

hatha-yoga-murals-in-dalai-lamas-temple

Images copyright- Thomas Laird (Source- hyperallergic.com)

 

Engravings by Mrs. Belnos (1832): Hand-colored engravings by Mrs. Belnos are believed to be the earliest visual record of Yogic practice’s followed during colonial India. The series of twenty-four graphic plates were prepared by author Mrs. Belnos’s French lithographer husband J.J. Belnos. The intricate drawings demonstrate different signs and postures performed during morning devotional ceremonies.

mrs-belnos_engravings_of-pranayama

mrs-belnos_engravings-on-yoga

 

Sritattvanidhi (19th century): An ancient Kannada treatise, “The Illustrious Treasure of Realities” has one of its sections that includes instructions and illustrations of 122 postures, making it by far the most elaborate visual text on Asanas in existence before the twentieth century.

sritattvanidhi

Image source: fearless.yoga

 

Sculptors, Murals and Frescos of Yogi’s and Yogini’s, richly adorn the Indian historical temples, these ancient artworks narrate mythological scenes and symbolic themes from sacred texts like Vedas and Upanishads.

Yoga-Narasiṃha, a man lion, is one of the several forms of Vishnu’s incarnation where he appears sitting cross-legged in a Yogic posture. On the request of his devotee, Prahlada, He took this Yoga form to calm the heat emanating from Him. This avatar of Lord Vishnu has been one of the favorite subjects for the artworks in ancient South Indian temples.

Yoga Narasiṁha form at a temple in Vijayanagara, Hampi (13th and 17th centuries) is the most creatively striking art-piece amongst them all.

yoga-narasi%e1%b9%81ha-form-at-a-temple-in-vijayanagara-hampi

 

Temple Nataraj (Chola Era 10th-12th centuries) is where Sage Patanjali wrote Yoga Sutras. The temple hosts carvings, sculpture and other allied arts of Yogi’s and Yogini’s in different Hath Yoga postures.

yogi-and-yogini-in-temple-nataraj

Image source: 10000yearsblog.wordpress

 

An ancient sculpture of Patanjali depicted in half-man, half-serpent form, signifying his enlightenment. In Yogic science a snake is symbolic of kundalini energy.

sage-patanjali

 

Srirangam Temple (6th to 9th centuries AD): Bas reliefs depicting Yogi’s performing various Hatha Yoga Asanas.

Shown below are ‘Tree posture’ (Vrksa Asana) and ‘Bhujapid Asana’.

srirangam-temple_vrksa-and-bhujapid-asana

Image copyright (rt): Rob Linrothe, (Left) mahavidya.ca

 

Jambukeswaram temple (2nd century AD) Shown below are some Hatha Yoga reliefs carved on pillars and walls of the temple.

hatha-yoga-reliefs-in-jambukeswaram-temple

Image copyright: Hari Prasad Nadig

 

Ranganathaswamy Temple (6th to 9th centuries AD): Stone carvings of Yoga Asanas.

hatha-yoga-stone-carvings-in-ranganathaswamy-temple

Image copyright: Nicolas Mirguet

 

Mahabalipuram: Ancient stone carving of Vrks Asana

stone-carving-of-vrksasana

Image copyright: Linda-Sama

 

Yoga Guru Shobhna Juneja, elaborates on the powerful connection between ‘Art’ and ‘Yoga’.

sobhna_yoga-guru_The system of Yoga is so vast and generous that deriving creative expression from it is natural for the artists. Although the yoga discipline is strictly an internal experience but sometimes yogis creatively ‘digress’ from it and start enjoying the artful dimensions of yoga mudras. No wonder then we see yoga as artful and glossy.

Yoga has been preserved through Guru Parampara (from Guru Lineage) whereas artworks inspired by Yoga have ‘glorified’ this ancient inner science (yoga). More so, if one sees these masterpieces, one wonders that ‘Yoga is beautiful’ and it’s a path to ‘Pure Love and Liberation.”

 

Connect with Shobhna–    INSTAGRAM   I   MAIL

Indian Ghats- a unique genre of paintings

Indian Ghats and rural river banks particularly Benares and Mathura have been a favorite subject for artists, starting from the ancient miniature painting where religious figures were often shown near a sacred river and the theme continues to be popular among the artists of contemporary times. It’s probably because of the exotic beauty and uniqueness of the composition that attracts the artist to capture the view.

Even the European artist’s who travelled Asia (18th to mid 19th century) known as the orientalist painters, were particularly fascinated by the rituals performed on waterfront of Benares, women water carriers clad in bright colored clothes, spiritually elevating Ghats of the sacred city of Mathura and exotic sites of rural river banks.

Shown below are two of the most popular paintings depicting Mathura Ghats and Ganga Water Carriers made by the American artist Edwin Lord Weeks.

Along the Ghats, Mathura, 1881

 

Water Carriers of the Ganges 1885 (Women collecting water from the river Ganga)

 

There are many reasons to this art genre of ‘Ghat Paintings’ for being so popular, cultural vitality, unending possibilities of interesting compositions and exceedingly flexible layouts. In E. L. Weeks’s paintings (shown above) the ethnic subjects in the foreground are the highlight, complementing the busy yet restrained setup in the background.

British artist, William Simpson (watercolors shown below) preferred to emphasize on the beauty of the rituals and traditional elements. ,

Ghats on the banks of the river Yamuna, Mathura, 1865

 

Panchganga Ghat from the Ganges, Benares, 1860

 

William Daniell and Auguste Borget treat their artworks as scenic landscapes. Unlike other artworks depicting religious sites, Daniell’s main focus is the rustic life and the picturesque flora and fauna. The fleets of stone stairs are natural and the subjects are engaged in activities which are not religious in nature.

The Banks of the Ganges, by artist William Daniell 1825

 

Mosque on the Banks of the Ganges, by artist A. Borget 1846

 

Even in current times there are distinguished Indian artists who depict the splendid beauty of Indian Ghats in the most original manner. Paramesh Paul an eminent contemporary artist, makes only Benares themed paintings, his paintings are characterized by profound and vibrant colors, mysticism, and a remarkable effect of light and shade.

 

 

In contrast to the other artworks of this genre, artist Somnath Bothe’s Ghats are serene and soothing.

 

 

 

Manoj Das’s approach highlights devotion and spirituality. The dazzling spectacle of the site after the evening prayers when the devotees float oil lamps in to the river, is illustrated marvelously. Even though his palette is limited the painting manages to portray the brilliance of the scene.

 

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India Documented in Watercolors (1850-1870)

Enticed by the exotic culture and stunning landscapes of India many British artists travelled the country and recorded their experiences via artworks, most popular being the water-colorist William Carpenter. He travelled extensively for seven years (1850-57) and managed to capture the Indian culture and landscapes in the most accurate and realistic manner.  It’s because of the authenticity and well-observed preciseness of his artworks that his wide collection of 200+ watercolors is considered a valuable source of information for documentation purposes.

Shown below are some of the most incredible watercolors made by W. Carpenter.

Interior of the Neminath temple, Dilwara, Mount Abu- 1851

 

Two Kashmiri Girls- 1854

 

The Golden Temple at Amritsar- 1854

 

Grove of date palms near Breach Candy, Bombay- 1850

 

Street scene in the bazaar in Udaipur, Rajasthan- 1851

 

Akali Sikh sitting near the causeway to the ‘Golden Temple’ in Amritsar- 1854

 

Interior of the Golden Temple, Worshippers are gathered around the Guru Granth Sahib, the sacred book of the Sikhs which rests on a red cushion under a canopy Amritsar- 1854

 

Portrait of Tara Chand, the court painter of Udaipur- 1851

 

A Singwali or woman of a wandering gypsy tribe- 1855

 

Mar Canal at Srinagar, Kashmir- 1855

There were many other artists commissioned by the East India Company, the main propose was to give the British community back home, a pictorial peek into the ethnic culture and the amazing flora & fauna of India. William Simpson, also a watercolorist has a comprehensive set of artworks to his credit. Originally a war artist, he was sent to India to sketch historic events following the ‘Revolt of 1857’ (Sepoy war) however he was so enamored by the diverse Indian customs, notable monuments and festivities, he ended up painting more of local scenes and landscapes. His plan was to produce an illustrated publication of his artworks made in India which unfortunately never materialized.

Shown below are some of the remarkable watercolors made by W. Simpson.

Ellora- 1862

 

Panchganga Ghat from the Ganges, Benares, Varanasi- 1860

 

Ghats on the bank of the River Jumna, Mathura (U.P) 1865

 

Indian School of Calcutta:- Students seated on mats around their master, working on slates- 1859

Nandi bull in a courtyard of a temple in Benares. – 1864

 

Akal Bunga (‘timeless house’) in the Sikhs’ Golden Temple at Amritsar- 1864

 

Water wheel being turned by two bullocks, Amritsar- 1864

 

A hill village near Simla in the Himalayas. – 1860

 

Taj Mahal, the monument as seen from the garden, with Europeans and malis (gardeners) in the foreground and flowerpots- 1864

 

Gateway of the Buddhist shrine- Sanchi Stupa- 1865

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