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Art-Science, Featured, Trees

Imag(in)ing a world without trees

Below are three famous paintings, but I’ve photoshopped out the trees. You get a point for naming the artist, and two further points if you know the name of the painting.

Answers at the bottom.

[This project came about as an attempt to visually represent “loss”. It’s one of the themes that I’ve been working on with the artist Alice Ladenburg. It is relatively easy to represent the importance of something that is present, but how do you capture or express the importance of something like deforestation that is all about the absence of something? It is not easy to focus a viewer’s attention on something that is not there! ]













If you like these, let me know and I will do some others.

The answers are:

1) Constable’s “The Haywain”.

2) Seurat’s “Sunday afternoon on the Island of Grande Jatte”.

3) Van Gogh’s “Olive Trees with Yellow Sky and Sun”.



20 thoughts on “Imag(in)ing a world without trees

  1. I smiled because both the Haywain and Sunday afternoon looked ‘acceptable’ to my eyes – in other words my view has already been ‘tainted’ by the landscapes I am increasingly exposed to. Only relative to the originals do you gain a sense of the unacceptable.

    But Van Gogh’s ‘Ground preparation for the Thre Gorges Dam with Yellow Sky and Sun’ really does it for me.

    Posted by william mackaness | January 8, 2013, 12:39 pm
  2. Your photoshopping skills are to be commended! I agree with William – they looked okay (partly because the distant trees give the suggestion of a wooded landscape), until you see the originals in all their rich and verdant glory! Then the tree-less foregrounds look hopelessly bland. Very thought provoking!

    Posted by Margaret Clift (@CollectiveMarg) | January 8, 2013, 1:44 pm
  3. I am impressed by your photoshop skills! I recognised Seurat’s “Sunday afternoon on the Island of Grande Jatte”, and thought it quite bare without the trees. The one that really brings it home is the last one by Van Gogh. Very bleak looking without the trees. I like this idea, it’s fun.

    Posted by Emily Woollen | January 10, 2013, 6:32 pm
  4. 6 points… (I gave myself one point for knowing that Seurat’s painting started with “Sunday Afternoon”. I didn’t know the title of the Van Gogh though.)

    Posted by Chris Lang | January 13, 2013, 5:32 am
  5. Marina Galperina has made animated GIFs from these treeless-masters. v cool. http://animalnewyork.com/2013/seurat-sans-all-the-trees/

    Posted by fortiain | January 14, 2013, 8:29 pm
  6. Wow, I am impressed by your image processing skills ! I like that you did not just remove the trees but chop them off and perfectly reconstructed the missing parts (which seems most difficult for the Constable), very illustrative… Removal (reconstruction) of ambiguities, scalopping, gap filling would be ‘kindergarden’ for you 😉

    Posted by Felicitas von Poncet | January 14, 2013, 8:46 pm
  7. Genial!!!

    Posted by Lucila | January 16, 2013, 2:04 pm
  8. Just been pointed to some great works by Bence Hajdu who has done something similar — except he has removed all the people from some great works of art. Check it out on Behance:

    Posted by fortiain | January 16, 2013, 10:52 pm
  9. Hello Iain, I love your idea of taking the trees out to make a statement. It would make people take notice if we could actually remove the things we love and admire. Not that we want to remove trees. In fact my art is about conservation of trees and forests. I have had exhibitions to promote conservation. My art studio is also used to educate the public about the importance of our forests and their role in combating climate change. Check it out at http://www.prairieartist.com We need to do a project together.

    Posted by cloudbridgereserve | June 8, 2014, 2:48 pm
  10. I can’t fully image such a world, but I am sure it will be sad and unwelcoming place. It will be nothing like the life we know. In a matter of fact, I am sure if humans are still alive in such a world, we will be almost nothing like the current selves. I don’t want to live in such a place.

    Posted by Josh Peckney | December 4, 2014, 11:55 am
  11. Reblogged this on Fortiain’s Blog and commented:

    Trees lost from familiar works of art. Still one of my most popular blog posts after three years, and certainly generated more interest than anything I ever did in my research career!
    Marina Galperina’s animated GIFs now give me the chance to revisit these visualisations through the likes of Twitter. http://animalnewyork.com/2013/seurat-sans-all-the-trees/

    Posted by fortiain | May 4, 2016, 8:55 pm


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