Woodland Stream, Scalp Level, 1882

George Hetzel (1826-1899)
Woodland Stream, Scalp Level, 1882
Oil on canvas, 24" x 36"
Collection of the Southern Alleghenies Museum of Art, Loretto, PA
R. K. Mellon Family Foundation Art Acquisition Endowment Fund, 91.007

In a landscape devoid of human presence, the sense of intimate serenity is heightened by the shimmering play of light across the cascading water, illuminating the stream's rocky edges and occasionally hitting the rough tree trunks. The forest's overall darkness is only broken along this waterway, with the tree tops parting in the center distance to reveal blue sky. One can see neither the beginning nor the end of the creek, and the sky itself is barely visible through the dense canopy of tree leaves, which is typical for Hetzel's work. The result is a tranquil cove that visually draws the viewer into the painting and allows for a strong sensory experience. Although not quite life-sized, this painting is large enough that the naturalistic rendering evokes a sense of being there, of smelling damp earth, of hearing the soft rushing of the creek, and feeling a faint breeze through rustling leaves. Hetzel's typically precise brushstroke and naturalistic style make it easy to fall into the nearly photographic realism of the painting, and the color choicesóthe rich greens of the trees and the dark browns of the shadows, contrasted with the softer tones of both the sky and the creek bankóbring to mind a warm summer's day with the cool serenity of shade found near creeks like this one.

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