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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Is Abstract Art Really Art?


Guernica by Pablo Picasso

Abstract art is a genre that stirs up extreme emotions, for some it is the most creative and novel way of expressing an artistic vision on the other hand there are a set of art enthusiasts who find it unimaginative, meaningless and even go so far as to say-  “it is an excuse for being a bad artist”. The statement is unquestionably false and invalid, master artists like Pablo Picasso and Kazimir Malevic started as brilliant realist artists, gradually after decades of experience headed towards abstraction as their style and techniques progressively matured. As Picasso quoted- “It took me four years to paint like Raphael, but a lifetime to paint like a child.”

Shown below (Left) is a portrait of Picasso’s mother made by him in his early teens. On the right is the painting- ‘Les Demoiselles d’Avignon’ (The Young Ladies of Avignon) , it is considered to be the prototype that shaped Cubism and Modern art. The evident style difference shows the creative maturity achieved by Picasso over the years.


Shown below (Left) is a realistic still life made by Henri Matisse, in his early years. On the right is his masterpiece painting- ‘Dance’ made after he founded Fauvism. The drastic transformation in his style proves the various techniques he adopted as his style matured over time.



Shown below is a portrait of Kazimir Malevic’s wife made by him in the early years of his career. On the right is the painting- ‘Suprematism’ made after he pioneered geometric abstraction.


“Of all the arts, abstract painting is the most difficult. It demands that you know how to draw well, that you have a heightened sensitivity for composition and for colors, and that you be a true poet. This last is essential.” – Wassily Kandinksky

To evoke emotions from a visual composition of shapes, lines and color that are completely detached from reality is what an abstract artist wishes to accomplish. It’s a tricky and tough target to achieve, the artwork needs to be intriguing and absorbing enough to give a viewer pause for thought.

Each one of us would have a different emotional reaction, interpretation and understanding of an abstraction, that is the unique creative character of non-representational art. Seeing Paul Klee’s painting (shown below) one might spot, drama and positive energy in the shape shifting color distribution but for some the patterned pastel shades may generate feeling of melancholy or chaos.


Feeling intimidated or stressing over deciphering the art would only ruin your visual experience, creative imagination and curiosity is all that’s needed to appreciate and enjoy the an abstract artwork.  What was the artist thinking while making the painting?  What is the message of the artwork? These are pointless questions best kept at bay. Abstract art is open to multiple connotations, it is like a prism that separates a single idea into a spectrum of interpretations.

In summary, abstract art is not an easy route taken by amateur artists, it is an idea that has fermented over years through various movements, experiments and techniques. Before the advent of camera, traditional arts theory was to capture live scenarios as close to reality as possible. Impressionist artists (late 19th century) were the first to defy the traditional methods by introducing abstraction in the art domain with a radical technique of coloring. Following various movements like Expressionism & Fauvism, by early 21st century Cubist artists like Picasso, Georges Braque and Juan Gris gave a sweeping turn by rejecting the most fundamental elements of art- Perspective and Pictorial Depth. Abstract art further evolved with successive movements like Surrealist and Op-art and it continues to progress and transform from post modernism to contemporary art scenario.

Shown below are artworks- La bouteille d’anis (The Bottle of Anis) and Les raisins made by cubism artist Juan Gris.


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