November 30, 2023

This wonderful piece that hangs in the galleries of the Art Institute of Chicago by the Norwegian artist Thomas Fearnley is a masterpiece of garden painting. The scene shows a pergola with a gentleman sitting and reading in the aisle.

The painting is set in a large, long garden pergola with an abundance of flowers, oranges, and greenery. Halfway down the path is a gentleman quietly reading a paper taking in the afternoon air. The setting is very calm and there is not a cloud in the sky. On the left side of the pergola near the front sits a large earthen pot with pink roses in it. The pillars that are on both sides of the path are a bit worn which is a common feature of gardens.

Oranges are the focus of this painting for they are everywhere to be seen. The orange trees are growing on both sides of the path and a rather large orange tree rests on the right side and it’s branches lean over to cover the path. As you look down the pergola you can see more orange trees which end at the garden house which has a large wooden door prominently displayed.

Fernley as made use of One-Point Perspective to achieve the strong focus down the center of the path. If you will look you can see that all the lines that follow from the brick wall on the right side, the lower brick wall on the left, and the tops of the pillars all meet at the center of the garden house door.

The attention to detail is remarkable for one can see single leave blades everywhere rather than blurry brush strokes. The bark on all the trees is clearly rendered. The use of shade and shadow is exquisite, the white on the tall pillars make a wonderful contrast to the greenery all around. Light permeates every element of the painting and though the sun is still high the artist does not use dark tones in the shaded area (particularly on the lower right side near the base of the brick wall) where it would be natural to make a more dramatic statement. The statement to be made here is complete and utter tranquility. The gentleman seated in the chair is the only living element (aside from the plants) in this painting. The oranges that fill the trees make for a lovely accent to a serene afternoon in the garden.

Stephen F. Condren – Artist