Landscape with a Bare Tree and a Plowman
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Léon Bonvin
French, 1864
Pen and brown ink, watercolor, and gum arabic
7 x 6 in.

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Focusing on a bare tree, Léon Bonvin drew its web of branches in extreme detail. Beginning with the wiry bush at the left, moving on to the tree, then taking in a plowman and finally a distant town, he subtly leads the viewer through space. He suggested a setting sun through the golden glow backlighting the tree and the scene's pervasive stillness. Bonvin's careful structuring of this landscape, which alternates between wide panorama and minuscule detail, lends the image the complexity and completeness of an oil painting. The exquisite detail and vulnerable, melancholy mood characterize much of his work.

As always, Bonvin made this watercolor as an independent work without a commission. By the 1860s, he made watercolors exclusively. His imaginitive mixing of pen and ink with watercolor combines precision with a delicate tonality that recalls early photography.