Ethel Magafan was a Chicago born artist who studied at the Broadmoor Art Academy in Colorado Springs, Colorado.
Magafan, and her twin sister Jenne, both worked as artists under the Public Works Administration during the Great Depression. In 1945, the sisters moved to Woodstock, New York.
Once in Woodstock, Ethel began to focus on the subject of horses and abstract landscapes in her work. After her sister died suddenly in the early 1950s, Magafan’s landscapes became much more abstracted; this change in her style can be observed in Winter Tree.
The print depicts the silhouette of an abstracted, gnarled tree trunk. Based on the tree’s ragged appearance and the title of the work, it is clear that this scene takes place in the dead of winter. The brownish green and cream background of the sky emphasizes the lifelessness of the tree at this time of year.
Considering Magafan’s personal history, the choice of subject matter and the stark composition of the work seem to reflect the grief and anguish that she must have felt after the death of her sister.