The Artist and the Tree

Artsy Editorial
Nov 13, 2013 3:10PM

In honor of Giuseppe Penone’s whimsically rock-filled trees currently dotting Manhattan (explore our full feature of the Madison Square Park Conservancy’s exhibition here), we thought we’d take a brief survey of the history of artists and trees. Whether captivated by their formal beauty or drawn in by their spiritual symbolism, artists have turned to trees for inspiration for millennia. Read on for some of our favorite artistic musings on the subject, as well as some of our favorite depictions of trees over the centuries.

“To such an extent does nature delight and abound in variety that among her trees there is not one plant to be found which is exactly like another.”  —Leonardo da Vinci

“When I judge art, I take my painting and put it next to a God made object like a tree or flower. If it clashes, it is not art.” —Paul Cézanne

“In all of nature, in trees for instance, I see expression and a soul.”—Vincent van Gogh

“A tree against the sky possesses the same interest, the same character, the same expression as the figure of a human.” —Georges Rouault

“A tree growing out of the ground is as wonderful today as it ever was. It does not need to adopt new and startling methods.” —Robert Henri

“I think the tree is an element of regeneration, which in itself is a concept of time.” —Joseph Beuys

“I suppose I would still prefer to sit under a tree with a picnic basket rather than under a gas pump, but signs and comic strips are interesting as subject matter.” —Roy Lichtenstein

“Your two-inch trees aren't realistic.” —Alex Katz, in reply to a viewer who asked why his huge, iconic trees weren’t painted realistically

“I love this landscape … particularly the trees, which are sometimes 130 years old. Gnarly. Almost like the windblown cypresses on the west coast. They fought for every inch of their lives. Very soulful.”  —Andrew Moore

“Tree roots go down into the earth, the branches reach up, and the trunk stands in the middle; it’s almost like a person connecting the root and the branches. It’s as if the tree unites all: the ground, the sky, and the man in between.” —Myoung Ho Lee

Explore Giuseppe Penone’s “Ideas of Stone”, a public exhibition by the Madison Square Park Conservancy.

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Jenna Gribbon, Luncheon on the grass, a recurring dream, 2020. Jenna Gribbon, April studio, parting glance, 2021. Jenna Gribbon, Silver Tongue, 2019