BRIL, Paul
(b. 1554, Antwerpen, d. 1626, Roma)

A Forest Pool

1595-1600
Drawing on paper, 201 x 270 mm
Musées Royaux des Beaux-Arts, Brussels

In the second half of the 16th century a number of artists moved away from the then popular broad landscapes to direct their attention to a particular aspect of nature such as a mountain range, a village or a wood. Forsaking the bird's eye perspective, they view the scene from a lower and closer angle, as illustrated by the drawing A Forest Pool, by Antwerp artist Paul Bril, who worked in Rome from 1582 onwards. The emphasis is on the splendour of the wood and the majesty of the treetops. The little figure of the hunter is swallowed up in the surrounding, overwhelming nature and remains a secondary element in the composition. The trees are drawn decoratively with visible roots and knotty branches, invoked by nervous parallel strokes and curly little lines.

Over this delicately drawn structure the artist applies a very subtle brown and grey wash tint, which stands out freshly against the areas of the paper that have been left white. The result is a playful interplay of light and dark right across the scene, gradually leading the eye towards the background. This technique reveals Bril's interest in light, the effect of which on the surroundings he carefully observes. This interest is also seen in the detailed representation of the reflection of the trees on the water. Although the viewer has direct access to this enchanting piece of woodland via the path leading from the very bottom of the picture, the highly refined style of drawing and the artificial structuring give the impression more of an ideal décor outside the confines of time and space.

This drawing belongs to a group produced between 1595 and 1600, all depicting intimate woodland surroundings. Jan Brueghel the Elder also treated this subject between 1592 and 1594 during his stay in Rome, where he met Paul Bril. Both artists drew inspiration from the woodland scenes of Pieter Bruegel the Elder, Hans Bol and the Italians Titian and Girolamo Muziano. Bril's landscapes were very influential and were regularly printed, among others by Aegidius Sadeler. However, no corresponding print is known of A Forest Pool, that was conceived first of all as an autonomous work of art, though Bril did use it later as an aide-mémoire in producing the tree parts in a number of paintings.