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Trees have played an important role within the paintings and drawings of many artists from the Netherlands and Belgium, and Bruegel the Elder was no different in that regard. Here we find a beautifully crafted drawing titled, Wooded Landscape with Mills.
Whilst being known by many as Peasant Bruegel, because of his focus on the life of the poor within his paintings, this was an artist who actually liked to create drawings which pretty much left out any trace of humanity. In this example we can spot a few mills, but otherwise this is a celebration of nature, and specifically the beauty of his own local region. He may have travelled elsewhere in order to find new influences and ideas, but he never fell out of love with his own home region. His technique of creating perspective through a large single tree in the foreground is used here and continues into many of his other drawings of around this period. It is believed that this drawing used pen for the precise detail and was finished in around the mid-16th century.
Behind the main focal point we find a series of smaller trees which are drawn in a lighter tone in order to add to this sense of depth and perspective. Sometimes Bruegel would then request engravers to take these drawings and convert them into carefully crafted engraved blocks that could be printed and sold. Income was a key concern to him throughout his lifetime, and became even more so as his studio grew in size - more pupils and assistants meant more projects were required. Later on, his sons would continue his legacy although he died whilst they were still very young. Much of what they learnt about him was through the paintings that he left behind, and perhaps becoming artists themselves allowed them to feel closer to their father.
Bruegel would have studied trees in great detail in his early years in order to achieve the level of accuracy found here. That said, the freedom of nature allows artists to make artistic choices which would not be possible with portraiture, as anything abnormal would immediately stick out to the viewer. Perhaps he liked the speed at which he could work within this genre, and the possibility of working outdoors with a simple sketchpad, rather than carrying around the tools for painting which are far more considerable.