Celebrating a breathtaking, quiet and cold winter sunset on a friend’s farm for this season.
“Winter” is a winter view of a friend’s family farm that I visited when I began painting en plein air. I found this frozen, still sunset absolutely beautiful, the quiet of the empty fields and big open sky, the sound of the wind, the colors constantly changing.
Winter is one of a quartet of paintings, “The Four Seasons”, commissioned to fit a special handmade frame. Scroll down to read about the creation of “The Four Seasons”.
Years ago a patron of a gallery in Carnegie where I hung my artwork asked me to paint four images for a very special frame she had.
The frame had been designed and handmade in wood by her father-in-law, was long and narrow, and had four openings, each 12″ high by 24″ wide. Each opening had its own piece of glass, and between each opening was a 1/2″ slat of wood as a divider. The outside border of the frame was 2″ wide and flat with hand carved figures which I believe were leaves, like a vine. Overall it had a warm and rustic appearance.
The frame came apart in the center so that there were two panels in each half, and art and glass slid in and out through this opening. The area for the artwork was barely deep enough for a piece of drawing paper, so he must have intended it for photos when he designed it. The frame locked together in the back so that the two halves held together and hung on the wall without sagging.
She was interested in pastel drawings on paper, which were a good choice for this since even flat painting panels would not have fit.
As soon as she described the frame to me I thought of painting the four seasons, in part because of the four sections of the frame, and it’s also a theme I enjoy here in Western Pennsylvania. The customer would enjoy it too, because I’d been to her house and large picture windows were placed to enjoy the landscape from all angles, and the view of the countryside was something she always mentioned.
So I collected reference photos from my rambles for each of the seasons, thinking purely of landscapes. Skies are one of my favorite daily studies, no matter the season; I could watch skies forever, the clouds moving, the changing light. Choosing the right moment of sky to paint into a landscape is a very serious choice for me, as you’ll see in looking at all four paintings in this series.
But she loved white cats and had actually purchased my painting “A Warm Bath” featuring my Angora cat Sally in a bath in morning sun at my side window, and asked me to add a white cat in somewhere since she’d given that painting as a gift. I really considered the best way to include a cat in the first panel, “Spring”. The scenes of the landscapes were typical of landscape paintings, showing the middle and far distance, where a cat would be hard to spot. For the landscape itself I remembered the layout of her yard and acreage, and collected some of my favorite photos of spring blooming garden.
But I remembered one of her picture windows and a countertop that extended partway in front of it and decided what I’d do. I had taken several reference photos of Sally having a good bath in front of that window for “A Warm Bath” and chose a more upright posture where she appeared to be looking out the window. The cat looking out the window in the first painting would also lend the idea that you were looking out the window at all the landscapes.
In this painting of spring I chose a misty moment in early morning, it’s rained overnight, all is covered with raindrops and the mist is still rising, the clouds parting.
While “Spring” is based on the customer’s property, the other three are not only treasured landscapes but also have emotional ties to the cats in my life.
“Summer” is an abandoned farm field on a high ridge which I passed regularly on the way to work each morning for six years, seen right after an early morning storm. I would reach this portion of my drive and pause to look at this field with the morning unfolding above it, different each day, take a deep breath, and go on. The site was developed a few years later, but I still remember that each time I pass by it, even now.
“Autumn” is a hay field with a rambling little stream and scrubby trees as autumn rain clouds roll in which I had photographed along one of the back roads I enjoyed. She had an old farm pond on her property and though her land was hilly I wanted to include a pond somehow.
And “Winter” is a winter view of the friend’s family farm that I visited when I began painting en plein air. I found this frozen, still sunset absolutely beautiful, the quiet of the empty fields and big open sky, the sound of the wind.
The one interesting part of this quartet is something I did not plan at all, but happened as I put the paintings together. If you let your eye run from one to the next you’ll notice that the horizon line is consistent from one to the next, and the time of day is actually progressive with “Spring” being very early morning, “Summer” about noon, “Autumn” mid afternoon, and “Winter” at sunset. When I saw this developing as I planned the paintings I found I could actually match up the horizon lines, but the times of day were part of the scenes I’d chosen. I had first considered actually having the seasons and times of day blend into one another, but decided the frame really wouldn’t accommodate that convincingly, instead letting the viewer’s eye fill in the connections.
Prints available of these paintings
Because the paintings were larger and difficult to photograph for a film camera with a standard size lens, my photos from this time were not consistently good enough to reproduce so only two are available. One of these days she and I will get together so I can take good updated photographs of all four seasons.
See Spring in my Feline Art Gallery.
See Summer in my Landscapes Gallery.
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