Under the Greenwood Tree or The Mellstock Quire: A Rural Painting of the Dutch School" was Hardy’s second published novel, and the first of his great series of Wessex novels….the novel reflects the common Hardyan theme of a rustic, evocative setting..
“_*To dwellers in a wood almost every species of tree has its voice as well as its feature. At the passing of the breeze the fir-trees sob and moan no less distinctly than they rock; the holly whistles as it battles with itself; the ash hisses amid its quiverings; the beech rustles while its flat boughs rise and fall.
And winter, which modifies the note of such trees as shed their leaves, does not destroy its individuality*_.
On a cold and starry Christmas-eve within living memory a man was passing up a lane towards Mellstock Cross in the darkness of a plantation that whispered thus distinctively to his intelligence.
All the evidences of his nature were those afforded by the spirit of his footsteps, which
succeeded each other lightly and quickly, and by the liveliness of his voice as he sang in a rural cadence:
And the daffodowndilly,
The lads and the lasses a-sheep-shearing go_."
The lonely lane he was following connected one of the hamlets of Mellstock parish with Upper Mellstock and Lewgate, and to his eyes, casually glancing upward, the silver and black-stemmed birches with their characteristic tufts, the pale grey boughs of beech, the dark-creviced elm, all appeared now as black and flat outlines upon the sky, wherein the white stars twinkled so vehemently that their flickering seemed like the flapping of wings.
Within the woody pass, at a level anything lower than the horizon, all was dark as the grave.
The copse-wood forming the sides of the bower interlaced its branches so densely, even at this season of the year, that the draught from the north-east flew along the channel with scarcely an interruption from lateral breezes" Under the Greenwood Tree..Thomas Hardy
It’s interesting that the subtitle of the work is a “Rural Painting of the Dutch School”…I have never been able to find any specific information as to why Hardy did this but imagining the settings and characters in the novel, I can easily see that he must have been referring to works by painters such as Paulus Potter, Vermeer, and Van Ostade, specifically the latter’s "Peasants in an Interior" (1661)
I restricted myself to painting an imagined setting of the plantation mentioned in the first chapter…many many layers and glazing were used to create an effect that would be evocative of the scene described and the era in which the drama took place…I also wanted it to have the look of an old oil painting with it’s dim colours and muted shapes..I painted the glow of a setting sun behind the trees instead of a moon rising, but I think you can still hear the whispers Hardy describes
Watercolour on Arches Not Paper