The Art of Trees: Live from the Cheltenham Literature Festival and the Woodland Trust

Oct 14 2019

This episode was recorded live at The Cheltenham Literature Festival in October 2019

David Oakes

David Oakes


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About this episode:

Trees have captured the imagination of some of Britain’s most important landscape painters, with artists including John Constable and Paul Nash inspired by their diversity of form, character and symbolic significance. Here, in discussion with David in his role as an Ambassador for the Woodland Trust, art historian Christiana Payne and artist Angela Summerfield celebrate the majestic beauty of our woodland and the role of trees in inspiring some of our greatest artworks. “The Art Of Trees” was recorded live at The Times and The Sunday Times 70th Cheltenham Literature Festival in October 2019 and was supported by The Woodland Trust.

David's thoughts:

The Hay Wain by John Constable


So, where to begin? A few months back I was asked by the Woodland Trust to host a discussion at the 70th Anniversary of the Cheltenham Literature Festival – and who am I to turn down a request like that?! To sweeten the opportunity, all involved were happy for me to release it as a podcast under the “Trees A Crowd” banner.

I was presented with two books by two incredibly learned women:

Prof Christiana Payne – Professor of History of Art at Oxford Brookes University. As well as looking at the history of Trees in Art in her book “Silent Witnesses: Trees in British Art”, she has also explored the Pre-Raphaelite Landscape painters and painters of British coastlines in the 19th Century. Alongside that she has curated numerous major international exhibitions.

Dr Angela Summerfield – a contemporary British artist, with a PhD in Art History and formerly the senior Art curator at the Royal Academy. She is one of a prestigious group of artists known as the Arborealists and has provided an essay and artwork for the book “Arborealists: The Art of the Tree” about the group and their many illustrious members.

I met them both on the day of the event, and can honestly say the conversations we had off stage should have been recorded alongside those had on stage. The conversational rabbit holes we shared discussing “the art of trees” were plentiful and varied, I think we all found the experience incredibly stimulating. Needless to say, I’m glad we can at least share the highlights of the discussion on stage here with you on the podcast.

I’ve trimmed the discussion very slightly to better suit this medium, but please feel free to Google the paintings mentioned to help illustrate this recording for yourself – or perhaps even buy a copy of the two books that Christiana and Angela were promoting at the festival!

I hope this discussion makes you consider the next tree you’re lucky enough to see with a slightly different mindset. With that in mind, I can’t let you go without saying a little about the Woodland Trust. 

Trees have (unfortunately) never been more captivating to the wider public then they are at the moment. With children and adults across the planet screaming about the realities of climate change, planting trees is one natural millennia old solution. But we are not planting anywhere near enough.

The Woodland Trust’s biggest day of mass planting, November 30th, is soon upon us. As part of The Big Climate Fightback, this event is about inspiring people of all ages and backgrounds and providing them with the opportunity and information to take intelligent direct action.

Show me any other institution that is as wondrous, provides shelter to us and the planet’s animals, provides us with oxygen, sequesters CO2 into the ground, makes us feel happier and protects our future and I’ll get on board – but, until then, why not support this amazing organisation.


Professor Christiana Payne –

Christiana Payne (Twitter) –

Dr Angela Summerfield –

The Woodland Trust –

The Woodland Trust’s “Big Climate Fightback” –

The Chelthenham Literature Festival –

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