Whether the subjects of studies, features of the landscape, or sole motifs of his paintings, trees exercise an imperious attraction over Calame. It is the shattered lone trunk, the mountain tree rising in an Alpine landscape, that he will paint most often in his life. Dating from 1850, the Tronc de hêtre (Beech Trunk), a close-up view of a tree on the plain, thus occupies a remarkable place in the artist’s body of work. In this small study, which displays a light and lively touch, Calame focuses on the trunk, exalting its sovereign power. The bark peeling off around the circumference, the moss adhering to the roots, and the knots in the wood have been patiently studied by the artist in order to set down the most precise of impressions. The broad, imposing trunk, isolated in the foreground, solidly gripping its roots, is likened to a portrait in which only the torso is visible and whose silhouette stands out before the undergrowth and its stunted vegetation.
With great freedom and spontaneity, the painter looks to put down on canvas the fullness of summer by bringing to light the hidden beauties of a grandiose nature, those that are concealed in the shadows cast by the foliage beneath the high branches. In his search for authenticity and realism, Calame pays special attention to his treatment of the play of light and dark. He skilfully describes the glints of the sun piercing the leaves and scattering golden patterns on the ground and vegetation in order to impart this atmosphere of summer freshness to the whole of the picture. The chiaroscuro effects, the painstaking detail and the meticulous rendering of the textures display the virtuosity of a painter who dedicates his art to celebrating nature and who delightfully lingers over each of its particularities.