Large Butterburr Leaves and Grass

In this study, Gilles-François-Joseph Closson challenged his technical abilities and powers of close observation by painting directly from nature without first making a line drawing. Increasingly, Closson and his contemporaries of the early 1800s were painting landscapes outdoors, using not only watercolor but oil on paper. By immediately rendering his observations in paint, Closson developed his skill at reproducing nature's myriad, constantly shifting colors. He used the oil paint's thickness and saturated, opaque colors to invest the simple leaves with a powerful visual impact. The butterburr, also known as bog rhubarb, has enormous leaves, which Closson showed in varying phases, from verdant green to withered purplish-brown. At the center, a leaf is beginning to change color, midway between life and death. Closson's choice of a close viewpoint and monumental treatment of what might otherwise seem a trivial subject lead the viewer to contemplate the cyclical nature of life. This theme of the brevity of human life and the transience of earthly pleasures was often treated in still lifes and flower pictures.

Oil on paper (about 1825-1829)

by Gilles-François-Joseph Closson (Belgian, 1796-1842)

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