Nature and landscapes have been an inspiration for artists around the world since the beginning of time. One of the most diverse landscapes that have birthed paintings over the ages is the forest. We’ve seen everything from realistic renditions to fantasy spins on these lands that many people see every day. These are some of the most beautiful examples of your chance to see the woods through someone else’s eyes.
Giant Redwood Trees of California, Albert Bierstadt
The Redwood Trees of California are some of the tallest and oldest trees in the world. Their massive size is displayed front and center in this forest painting. You can even see people in the foreground that are dwarfed by the massive trees all around them. It gives the unique feeling of being free of human-made society and enjoying what Mother Nature has to offer.
Ophelia, 1889, John William Waterhouse
Ophelia, 1889, is a painting by John William Waterhouse inspired by the Shakesperian character of the same name. In the play, Ophelia was the love interest of Hamlet in the titular work, Hamlet. Ophelia is driven mad in the piece of literature by the death of her father. She eventually dies after she climbs into a willow tree only for the branch to break, and she drowns in Denmark. However, the painting more likely refers to her last scene in the play, where she hands out flowers and sings as suggested by the bouquet in her hand.
Pandora, 1896, John William Waterhouse
Another famous and gorgeous painting by John William Waterhouse is Pandora, 1896. This painting features the figure Pandora from Greek mythology. The story goes that Pandora was the first woman on Earth and entrusted with a box she was never meant to open. As for what was in the box, there are two versions of the myth. The more popular version references a box of evils that was slammed shut before Hope could escape the box. Another version says the box held blessings to humanity that we would have today had Pandora not let them escape.
Nymphes Et Satyre (Nymphs and Satyr), William-Adolphe Bouguereau
This painting by William-Adolphe Bouguereau was once referred to as “the greatest painting of our generation.” The picture features a group of nymphs bathing in a lake who’s been come upon by a satyr. Satyrs were known to attempt to seduce women and nymphs at any possible opportunity, sometimes growing violent if they were rejected. While it seems as though the nymphs are playful in the painting, the artwork intends to represent the nymphs as pulling the satyr into the cold water to dissuade and deter him.
Matamoe (Landscape with Peacocks), Paul Gauguin
The artist created the painting Matamoe after he arrived in Tahiti in 1892. There are dueling ideas as to the title of the painting since Matamoe translates to “death,” While a similar word, Matamua, means “Once upon a time.” However, over the years, the consensus is that the original spelling was correct, and the title referred to Gauguin’s “rebirth” from the man he was after visiting Tahiti where he saw the beautiful landscape and met new people. Interestingly, the man swinging the ax in the painting seems to be the same subject of an earlier, 1891 portrait of the artist called Man with Axe, 1891.
The Swing II (The Happy Accidents of the Swing), Jean-Honore Fragonard
Swing II depicts a rather happy and carefree forest scene. The focus of the painting is the woman on the swing with her skirt billowing around herself shoe flying off her foot. In the foreground, you can see a young man in front of her lying down and pointing his hat. Looking carefully in the background, you can see an older man pushing the swing. According to the journals of Charles Collé, he asked the artist to paint him and his mistress with a bishop pushing her. However, the artist opted for a layman instead. This “frivolous” style was later frowned upon by artists of the Enlightenment who preferred to showcase more human severe interactions in their works.
Winter Sunset, James Thomas Watts
Paintings of lush green forests are a common sight, but James Thomas Watts offered a different experience with his Winter Sunset painting. Instead, it features a winter wonderland complete with snowfall and trees bare of leaves. It captures the serenity of the forest in the dead of winter and gives viewers a unique alternative to the midsummer forests they see in many paintings.
Landscape paintings have never gone out of style, and they likely never will. These paintings show us the natural world – and sometimes even the fantastical world – through the eyes of some of history’s best artists.