Landscape is perhaps Philip Leslie Hale’s most progressive painting, reflecting his awareness of Monet’s move to more abstract subjects (in his series of poplar paintings, for instance) and of Les Nabis (the Prophets), an avant-garde French movement that sought to disavow academicism in favor of more decorative aspects of art. Led by Paul Sérusier, Maurice Denis, Pierre Bonnard, and Edouard Vuillard, Les Nabis experimented with simplified drawing, flat patches of color, and bold contours in the pursuit of decorative beauty rather than description. Both Monet and Les Nabis were influenced by Japanese aesthetics, which liberated the artist from a literal transcription of nature and emphasized simplified natural forms and the extraction of decorative patterns from nature.
The lack of a central focus, bright colors, and loose brushwork of Landscape are reminiscent of Monet’s poplar paintings. Hale used yellow pigment to convey the effects of the midday sun, green for both the foliage of the trees and their shadows, and blue and lavender for the tree trunks. The influence of Les Nabis is apparent in the flatness of the design and the primacy of surface pattern. Hale employed bands of color in a decorative grid of rhythmic verticals and horizontals, relieved by the single tall tree in the left foreground. Hale’s inventive composition borders on abstraction and presages developments that would occur in Paris after the turn of the century. These experiments proceeded without Hale, however, who retreated toward more descriptive canvases after 1900.
This text was adapted from Janet L. Comey’s entry in Impressionism Abroad: Boston and French Painting, by Erica E. Hirshler et al., exh.cat. (London: Royal Academy of Arts, 2005).