Monday, February 16, 2015

Lilian Westcott Hale, The Old Cherry Tree

Lilian Westcott Hale, The Old Cherry Tree, c1920

Lilian Westcott Hale (1880-1963) is an American Impressionist painter.  Born in Bridgeport, Connecticut, she studied at the Hartford Art School, then in Shinnecock on Long Island with William Merritt Chase, and finally at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston with Edmund Tarbell.  There she met Philip Leslie Hale, whom she married in 1902.  Hale worked in paint and charcoal, and she is best known for her portraiture and powerful interior scenes.  She successfully captured the inner lives of women and explored the complexities of their lives.  In addition to these works, Hale also painted still-lifes and landscapes.  The Old Cherry Tree is a complex work that suggests an interesting relationship with nature.  Very influenced by both Impressionism and Japanese printwork, the painting depicts the interaction of the natural world and the fence built to cordon it off.  Although it extends only partway across the scene (the landscape seems to drop off into a valley of some sort, making its extension unnecessary), the fence exerts a strong influence on the space of the painting, and apparently on Hale herself.  The fence and gate are a barrier, both visually and physically, but the eponymous cherry tree challenges that status, intruding beyond the gate.  It twists and stretches, becoming the focus of visual interest.  However, the flat picture space, an element particularly drawn from Japanese prints, gives the sense of standing outside the scene, with the natural world beyond our grasp or experience.  Whether or not this was Hale's personal experience of nature, she conveys this distance quite effectively.  With its pale glowing colors and dense background composition, the painting is a curious and engaging look at the forest just beyond the fence.

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