What attracts artists into cornfields?

We all know one reason for artists to be in cornfields and this was expressed by Rembrandt who did an etching in about 1646 Monk in a cornfield. Its too early in the morning to be met with this image so you can check it out for yourself!

However, for whatever reason, artists have been fascinated with painting cornfields for hundreds of years. In fact it is claimed that the first painting to show people working in fields was View of Box Hill from Ranmore Common, Surry (also titled Hilly Landscape with Cornfield) by George Lambert, painted in about 1733. If you’re interested in genre paintings it is worth reading online Common Land in English Painting, 1700-1850 by Ian Waites who gave an excellent analysis of the significance of the painting.

Now Aussie subscribers don't get confused with another George Lambert, one of our official WW1 artists who didn't miraculously live for 200 years! I don't think the two Lambert artists are connected as from memory the Australian one was born in Russia. Perhaps we will look at him later when we get out of the cornfields.

Everybody knows that Van Gogh painted many paintings of cornfields and wheat fields.
Even though he chose to end his life in a wheat field let us remember him in this way as expressed in a letter to his parents: I myself am quite absorbed in that immense plain with wheat fields up as far as the hills, boundless as the ocean, delicate yellow, delicate soft green, the delicate purple of a tilled and weeded piece of ground, with the regular speckle of the green of flowering potato plants, everything under a sky of delicate tones of blue, white, pink and violet. I am in a mood of almost too much calm, just the mood needed for painting this.

But did you know Turner also painted cornfields? My favourite is A cornfield with reapers and a church beyond, with a misty sun.
Turner even managed to combine cornfields with his interest in painting the sea in Cliffs and Cornfields by the Meuse with Poilvache in the Distance.
Alfred Sisley's cornfield is rather gorgeous.

David Hockney painted cornfields.

In fact its hard to find an artist who hasn't had a go at a cornfield. I'm pleased to announce that we have located Mary Jewels' painting of "Cornfields with Peasants", thanks to Chris who has remarkably found it on the cover of a book. Mary has captured the vibrancy of colour in the field and cleverly contrasted with with the darkness of the earth.

So, what is it about cornfields that attracted so many painters?
An easy answer is that the growing of corn was so much part of the lives of the ordinary people in England, Europe, America. The countryside was covered in corn so the scenes were hard to avoid for the en plein air artists.

But I think the answer for the popularity of corn fields is to do with the light the crops reflect. Eastman Johnson’s painting of Man in a Cornfield embodies all that corn has to offer to the artist- brilliant colour, brilliant light, interest especially for genre artists interested in painting the activities of everyday people. I love Eastman Johnson’s paintings, (he was co-founder of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City) partly because he was a genre painter (my favourite style) but because he was so influenced by the Dutch Masters of the 1600s.

But it’s not all about the light. American painter Andrew Wyeth took a very different approach to his cornfields and I love his work.

Did Aussie artists paint cornfields? Yes our artists have painted cornfields. Arthur Boyd has done Nude in a cornfield!
John Perceval’s cornfield is a little more traditional and I don’t particularly like it as it doesn’t capture the light.

If I have whetted your appetite towards cornfields check out this site, dedicated to paintings of cornfields, hundreds of them. In fact there are several sites dedicated to corn field art. Take your pick and choose your favourite. Me, I'm sticking to Eastman Johnson’s. And next time you go rolling around in the cornfield, take your paints and canvas with you!

Anne Newman

Oil Painter in realistic genre style, predominantly buildings and people. To continue the discussion contact Anne on anewman@netspace.net.au or phone +61 407 516 522

Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

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