Nikolay Bogdanov-Belsky, The Girl in the Forest

Here’s a painting to spark your inspiration: The Girl in the Forest by Russian master Nikolay Bogdanov-Belsky. I featured this painting in my updated composition guide, but I think it warrants a closer look.

Nikolay Petrovich Bogdanov-Belsky, The Girl in the Forest
Nikolay Petrovich Bogdanov-Belsky, The Girl in the Forest

Below are some key observations and takeaways:

  • The girl and two trees frame the left-hand side of the painting.
  • There’s a strong vertical theme: the girl, trees, stumps, grass, and branches. This contrasts against the horizontal line created by the distant trees.
  • A key feature of the painting is the girl’s distant stare. She’s looking out to the side at nothing in particular. You would typically avoid leading people out of the painting like this, but it works in this case to emphasize her distant stare.
  • The painting has a remarkable sense of realism, yet it still looks like a painting. This comes down to the use of accurate values and drawing combined with visible brushwork. If you want to achieve this kind of finish, be careful about over blending. Make clean, decisive strokes and think twice before blending them.
  • The painting is understated in terms of color. Mostly soft pastel colors.
  • The girl’s clothes are faded and her shoes are missing, perhaps suggesting a battle against poverty. Yet, she seems at peace in the forest. The painting would have a different feel if it were set on the gritty city streets. Marie Bashkertseff’s The Meeting comes to mind.
  • Notice the use of simplification for the distant trees. The value range is compressed and only the key details are conveyed. This creates a sense of depth in the painting. Clarity up close, vague in the distance.

Thanks for reading! If you want to learn more, check out my Painting Academy course.

Dan Scott


Dan Scott is the founder of Draw Paint Academy. He's a self-taught artist from Australia with a particular interest in landscape painting. Draw Paint Academy is run by Dan and his wife, Chontele, with the aim of helping you get the most out of the art life. You can read more on the About page.