In this series, noted painter Joseph McGurl discusses plein air paintings by past masters that he finds instructive or inspiring. This week: “Vermont Winter Homestead With Sleigh,” by Aldro Hibbard.
Hibbard painting in the field
Aldro Hibbard was a New England painter who was famous for his winter painting exploits. In the photo of him at work, we see his snowshoes in the lower right, and on the left, there is a sled with a tarp to cover his supplies while in transit. He is using a Gloucester easel with a rock tied to it to prevent it from blowing over. His large palette has a fold-down top and sits on its own easel. He looks quite comfortably set up. With a lot of ground to cover on that large canvas, working efficiently is important.
In “Vermont Winter Homestead With Sleigh,” Hibbard demonstrates his ability to simplify the elements he is rendering. This simplification is useful when painting in the winter as the consistency of the paint thickens and the artist is often wearing mittens or gloves. The day is slightly overcast, so light and shadow are subdued, and the local colors predominate. The soft transitions in the snow mimic the coloring of the sky. His sensitive attention to the nuances of color and value create the atmosphere within this scene, and we can feel the cold winter air permeate our coats. The house and barn could only have been placed in the center of the composition because of their strong colors. Our eye is immediately focused on those bright colors, and Hibbard has arranged this composition as if it were a portrait. There are supporting elements such as the sleigh, stand of trees, mountain profile, and the diagonal marks in the foreground that help move our eye off the buildings, but we always end up back at those yellow, red, and green color notes.