Pauca Verba is Latin for A Few Words.

Friday, March 10, 2017

The Last Rays of the Sun: Aspen Forest

This painting shows the sunlight disappearing behind a grove of young aspen trees.  We seem to be standing at the edge of the forest but looking out from the inside, through the trees to a clearing. Then, there is more forest on the other side of the open space. It is 1897 and Levitan is not well. Perhaps he feels he in between here and there. Even the title of the painting: The Last Rays of Sun, suggests he is aware this may be the last active summer of his life. He died in 1900, a few days before his 40th birthday.

Levitan's love for the forest is so profound, he has even taken care in depicting the forest floor where some low growing plants are blooming. The cluster of trees on the left reflects the light of a setting sun.

One kind of aspen is called populus tremula - trembling. In the fall when the leaves begin to dry out, the tree trembles with the wind. The legends about why this happens are unhelpful. One story says the aspen trembles because it was used to fashion the cross of Jesus. Dozens of trees claim that distinction.

Another story says the aspen shakes as a condemnation for its pride in not bowing down to Jesus as he passed by. Taking one of nature's most beautiful moments and turning it into a story about sin? Nah! I'd say rather: how about God being God - the divine imagination, creatively, generously giving us reason for delight each year.

I caught this, one sunny, autumn afternoon: the wind blowing through the top of a very tall and solitary aspen tree. The stop-in your-tracks sound of the leaves rustling was magic, and for minutes, the whole tree quivering, hundreds, maybe thousands of long-stemmed leaves, flashing like bits of silver foil!


  1. I find this painting to be one of his most beautiful. I might be partial to the forest scene as it brings feelings of peace and tranquility.

  2. When I was a boy there were a couple of wooded lots behind our house where I would go. I was little, so it felt like a deep forest - like the forest in Bambi.

  3. When, I was growing up, forests were often times scary places in the fairy tales we read. "Hans and Gretel", "Snow White" and "Little Red Riding Hood". We read these books over and over. Luckily, we had happy endings. We hung in with the scary parts because we knew the ending would be happy. I see in Levitan's paintings sadness, neglect but most times that light is there for comfort, hope. Sometimes, I wonder if forests are a hiding place for him.

  4. In this painting we are standing in the shady part of the woods - but light fills "the other side". The Gospels present this theme often - with each healing of a blind man - the movement of darkness to light.