Charlotte Buell Coman’s Clearing Off, seems like a pleasant enough landscape painting, perhaps the sort of scene one wouldn’t mind hanging in their living space. A fine representation of the Barbizon tradition, I’m sure many people would enjoy its soft brushwork and those muted greens and blues, not to mention that lovely view of those mountains and as a gentle storm settles down.
All the elements are harmonious and quite picturesque, but what sparked my interest about this work are its topographical details. I find myself viewing Clearing Off with the same mindset as when I’m checking out Google Earth. It’s awesome to observe the landscape from this distant, elevated perspective, seeing all the houses, gates, fields and other evidence of human activity, only to wonder what it may have looked like before our incursion throughout all areas of the planet. I would imagine our scene in Clearing Off was once part of a larger wilderness that has since been drastically reduced to serve our purposes. It’s also interesting to consider the vast amount of land which was cleared before the use of modern bulldozers and the manpower it required.
Perhaps it’s telling that the title immediately makes me think of one clearing off areas of the land, though it seems that the artist was referring to the change of weather. Also, perhaps because of its light-brownish color, the steam leading down from the house first registered to me as a very rough dirt road, though Coman’s other paintings of this scene confirmed otherwise. That’s one rugged little steam, serving as testimony to the natural landscape which once was.