Translated as “On the Forest Meadow,” ‘Auf der Waldwiese’ is a simple yet highly effective piece by German painter Hans Thoma. As might have been intended by the artist, the woman’s presence within the scene is ambiguous. My interpretation is that she is laying a bouquet of flowers in remembrance of the departed loved one. Perhaps she is knelling before a small grave, or maybe this is actual site where someone passed away. With that in mind, this is somber painting which signifies a deep, personal loss. The considerably drab palette complements this feeling.
Whatever the case, I hardly believe, as one might assert, that she’s merely picking flowers in the meadow. Still, as mentioned earlier, this is all left open to interpretation.
The way the woman is centered in the composition, bookending her between two wide areas of empty space, obviously draws our attention to her. This framing, however, feels very deliberate, adding a sense of uneasiness to the painting. I’m also intrigued by Thoma’s choice of vantage point, which seems taken from eye-level rather than from a more dramatic perspective. This eye-level view makes me feel as if I were an actual witness to the scene, granting the work an eerie authenticity.
Other details throughout this work catch my eye. In the background one can see the rocks of a cliff peeking through the trees, and within the grass you’ll also notice a tiny stream, perhaps meant to symbolize one’s journey into the afterlife.