On the cusp of changing colour, the deciduous trees of the title become denser towards the right, eventually blurring into obscurity. An early morning mist is rising up off the field of ripe corn at left, while the hills in the distance give way to a sky dotted with cloud, whose cheerful blue and white offsets the subtle phrasing of the early autumn hues, the nuances of olive green, ochre and brown. But the eye is denied the serenity emanating as much from the colours as from the subject – an effect achieved both by the seemingly arbitrary cropping that cuts off the trees at top and bottom, and by the fact that there is scarcely a single contiguous line in this work. Nor is either the brushwork or the palette in any sense systematic. On the contrary, they serve rather as hints and pointers, which is why the same shade can signal both proximity and distance. Everything is in transition – the painted surface that gains relief and texture only in the eye of the beholder, the various levels kept in suspense, and the array of velvety soft, molten colours, betraying a closeness to the Barbizon Circle, to painters such as Narcisse Diaz and Theodore Rousseau, but also to Thomas Couture, who studied with Victor Müller from 1851 to 1858. Landscape studies in his hand are rare and consequently difficult to order chronologically. Whether this study was produced during or after Victor Müller’s years in Paris and France thus remains uncertain; both seem possible.1 What carries rather more weight is the impartiality of the painting as a process of inching ever closer to reality – and the uncompromising rigour with which viewers are thrown back on their own powers of perception and their subjectivity.
Christian Ring, “Die Entdeckung des ‘Nicht-Motivs,’” in Magie des Augenblicks, exh. cat. Museum Giersch, Frankfurt 2009, Petersberg 2009, p. 204. In a conversation with the author, Lehmann expressed the view that the work was painted in France, in which case it would belong to the period 1850–1858.↩