Francis Danby exhibited a painting, Clearing up after a Summer Shower, at the Royal Academy in London in 1822. The painting is now lost, but we know about it from a description by Richard Redgrave, who drew attention to “a group of chestnuts and other trees, their wetted leaves coming like emeralds off the dark cloud.” Leaves “like emeralds” also appear in Danby’s charming painting of Children by a Brook. I believe these are the large leaves of the sweet or Spanish chestnut, made semi-transparent by the strong sunlight shining through them.
The artists of the first half of the nineteenth century loved the contrast between brilliant sunshine and deep shadows in the woods, especially the beech woods of southern England. Picnics in the woods were a favourite form of relaxation, especially in the hot days of June and July. Bristol artists went to Leigh Woods, the other side of the river Avon from the city, to relax, read, play music and make sketches.
Danby’s friend, the artist Edward Villiers Rippingille wrote a letter to the poet John Clare, in the summer of 1824, which specifically mentions this contrast between deep shadow and brilliant sunlight in the woods. He encourages Clare to come and see the Bristol trees, water and woods in the sunshine: “see branches of the most luxuriant foliage hanging over the river as bright as a diamond forming the darkest recesses and hollows of the richest colours, the brown earth mixing with the endless varieties of greens produced from reflections and from the sun shining through broad sheets of leaves …”