The traditional rules of composition are passed down from teacher to student like commandments, and it’s a healthy exercise to question them from time to time. One old rule among landscape painters is to place the foreground in shadow.
Frank Wootton (1914-1998) strictly follows the convention. The shadow gives the viewer something to step over, and it makes the light in the middle distance seem more brilliant. In European and American landscape painting, this device has become so commonplace that most landscape painters do it without a second thought.
What happens if you do the exact opposite of the rule? What if you put the immediate foreground in light, load it with detail, and then throw the middle distance into shadow?
A few painters in 19th Century Russia followed the unusual practice of illuminating the foreground rather than darkening it. Ivan Shiskin (1832-1898) presents a vista of an oak in a wide valley. But we begin the journey into the picture on our hands and knees like a child, inspecting a lovingly detailed miniature landscape of weeds and grasses.
One of Shishkin’s students, Fiodor Vasilyev (1850-1873), used a similar device in his masterpiece "Wet Meadow," said to be painted from memory just before his untimely death. The cheerfully lit foreground lends added power to the stormy passage in the distance.
More on Shishkin at Olga's Gallery, link.
Fyodor Vasilyev on Wikipedia, link.