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Pond in the Woods

Pond in the Woods

Albrecht Dürer, Pond in the Woods, ca. 1497. Watercolor, 26.2 x 36.5 cm. London, British Museum, inv. no. 5218-167.

Pond in the Woods is one of Dürer’s most exquisite renderings of nature. A calm, violet-blue pond in the foreground immediately captivates spectators. There are also dark blue clouds that roam in the sky covering up most of the sun, and these elements heavily contrast the stillness of the water. Weeds grow in the pond and along the water’s shore. These plants are similar to the ones that would eventually appear in Dürer’s The Large Piece of Turf. To the right, on a brown bank, a dense group of tall and lanky pine trees with thick forest green branches tower above the pond. On the opposite side, a mound rises above the water containing a few trees that have been truncated at the top. Spatially, the rolling clouds overtake these trees. The contrast between living and dead trees alludes to the cycle of nature. More than a mere study of nature, Pond in the Woods contemplates the impermanency of life, both human and natural. Dürer’s investment in capturing the transitory, suggests that he likely constructed this image from the spirit rather than in situ.

Aesthetically, Dürer employed a wide range of vivid colors for the completion of Pond in the Woods. The watercolor medium gave Dürer the opportunity to make spontaneous records of nature – a feat that was not possible in other media. Whether Pond in the Woods is meant to be a representation of sunrise or sunset is of secondary importance, since Dürer’s primary concern in this image was to express the experience of a fleeting moment. The combination of subtle light effects, the coming or going of a storm, and the dreamlike setting give the composition a fantastical quality.