Sunday, 8 March 2009
A Different Palette
On my flight back from England after Christmas I was sat next to a retired couple who were visiting the Czech Republic for the first time. As the plane began its descent into Prague Airport, the wife commented to her husband as she looked down at the countryside below “It's so brown!” This gave me pause for thought, I looked past her out of the window and noticed that yes it was brown, unlike the England we had left which was despite the winter still green. I had forgotten that this was so. The Czech winter with its cold and snow means that the grass in the pastures withers and turns a straw colour. With the exception of the dark green of the firs, the Czech landscape is many shades of brown. Of course everything is very different when the country is covered with snow - a dazzling white in the sunshine which contrasts so strongly with the other colours that they appear black or dark grey. On such days you would do well to wear sunglasses.
Both these sets of winter colours are followed by the sudden explosion of Czech springtime, often over a few days, when the world turns a wonderful green. On one of my early visits I spent a happy couple of hours in Petrin Park overlooking Prague, picking wild flowers for my sick friend.
Czech Spring is such a contrast the English one, where everything is more muted – a gradual changing with Spring edging in to the landscape over a period of months. I am currently in England where Spring is gently springing. Snowdrops, which appear in January, have been succeeded by primroses, and then by yellow catkins. Yesterday I drove to Ross on Wye and on the verges the first of the wild daffodils were opening – in a week or so one of Gloucestershire's great natural displays will happen as the woods and fields around Dymock are filled with Wordsworthian hosts. That of course is followed in April by that most British of scenes - the bluebell woods where the flowers shimmer in huge oceans. The Czech Republic has nothing to compare with the English Spring flowers, unless it is the purple buttercups of which I have written in the past.
But then the Czech Republic has other treasures. The painting medium most suited to an English landscape, no matter the season, is watercolour, with green, grey and white being the dominant colours in the palette, with the occasional blue. Oil and pastel are more suited to the Czech, the colours more intense and more contrasting – the sun and sky closer to those of the Mediterranean. Except perhaps at the turn of Winter, when washes of brown are called for.