Santiago Rusiñol is best known as a painter of Spanish gardens. However, his paintings should be understood not as an extension of naturalist landscape painting, but as the culmination of a quasi-symbolist artistic vision.
Rusiñol's poetic artistic language has its roots in the time he spent in Paris in the early 1890s, and his association with the Brussels-based avant-garde group of artists known as Les XX in the 1890s, whose founder members included Fernand Khnopff and James Ensor, but who invited other artists to exhibit with them. The group gradually became a focus point for symbolist and modernist artists, poets and writers, including James McNeill Whistler, whose influence on the Spanish artist was particularly notable. Rusiñol was struck by the American's ability to imbue nominally realist subject matter with a haunting mood, and there is no doubt that, like his contemporary Vilhelm Hammershøi (see lot 32), he was particularly influenced by Whistler's portrait of the artist's mother, Arrangement in Grey and Black, executing several portraits of his own in a similar idiom.
Although Rusiñol, unlike Hammershøi, soon abandoned a monochromatic palette for colours that were extraordinarily resonant, he applied to his gardens the same visual language, that can best be understood in terms of stillness and emptiness, but imbued with a uniquely Spanish languour. Both artists took two very different but man-made spaces, highly architectural interiors and meticulously landscaped gardens, but managed to abstract from them any sense of human presence.
The present painting is typically mysterious and evocative. Filling the entire picture plane, a huge wall of trees completely blocks the horizon, creating a sense of a self-contained universe. The path, also blocked, and the vanishing perspective reinforced by the row of trees to its side, lead to an unseen world beyond, the presence of which is hinted at by the specks of blue sky glimpsed through the dense canopy of leaves. The trees themselves are enigmatic in form, as much animal as vegetable, looming up in a series of vertical lines, like fantastical guardians of the sun-dappled landscape below.