Cypress Trees along the Rhone River, Provence, France

Cypress Trees along the Rhone River, Provence, France

In a letter to his brother, Theo, Vincent Van Gogh wrote of the cypress trees ” The cypress is always occupying my thoughts … It is as beautiful of line and proportion as an Egyptian obelisk.  And the green has a quality of such distinction… It is a splash of black in a sunny landscape, but it is one of the most interesting black notes, and the most difficult to hit off exactly than I can imagine.”  I can’t agree more.  My first little watercolor sketch painted from the top deck of the Viking Burgundy and my last sketch painted from the top deck were of the cypress viewed while sailing up the Rhone and Saone Rivers in France.

The landscape of the Provence Region in France reminds me of the landscape of Southern California.  Many years ago I painted one of the canyon areas near San Diego.  It was the cypress trees that inspired me in San Diego and the cypress trees that inspired me in Provence.

Cypress Trees along the Saone River in France

Cypress Trees along the Saone River in France

What then, might suggest France rather than California?  It was a question that I tossed about in my head throughout the week in France.  The world is becoming rather homogenized, the interstate stops in New Jersey look just like the interstate stops in Indiana and in Colorado.  Many of the towns look the same.  Unique local restaurants have been replaced with restaurants belonging to a chain, the same look, the same food, the same uniforms on the wait staff.  The challenge for me is to unearth the difference, the unique feature that might define the landscape as belonging to a specific place in a specific country.

Certainly the buildings in France help to define the painting as European rather than American.  With structureless landscape the challenge is more difficult to address.  As the wind blew hard, attempting to whisk my little paintings into the river, I wasn’t worrying about anything except painting those wonderful cypress.  I put off worrying about uniqueness of country until another time, out of the wind.

Advertisements