A Walk in the Woods: A Celebration of Trees in British Art The Higgins Bedford

30 Sep 2017 – 25 Feb 2018

Take a stroll through a forest on canvas and explore two hundred years of trees in art.

Artists as diverse as John Constable and Paul Nash, Edward Lear and Lucien Freud have all made the tree their subject. Spanning two centuries and drawing on 40 works from the Cecil Higgins Art Gallery Collection, this exhibition explores how trees have spread their roots as deeply in the imaginations of artists as in the real, living landscape.

For many artists, trees embodied an almost human personality and depictions are more akin to portraits than landscapes. Others drew on the rich symbolism and mythical qualities long associated with trees and woodland. On display are watercolours, drawings and prints, including John Constable’s Fir Trees at Hampstead, a portrait of a larch and a Scots pine – his largest drawing of trees. 

There is also John Nash’s Berkshire Landscape, in which he contrasts the husks of dead trees against their living counterparts, and from the pre-Raphaelite follower George Price Boyce there is At Binsey, Near Oxford, a vibrant watercolour of pollarded willows in bright sunshine. Other artists on display include John Sell Cotman, Samuel Palmer and Graham Sutherland.

In 1217, Henry III signed the Charter of the Forest, opening up the royal forests for the use of the people. To mark the 800th anniversary of this act, in November 2017 The Woodland Trust launches a new charter to recognise and protect those rights. A Walk in the Woods joins in the celebrations by highlighting the enduring popularity of trees in art.