Here's a painting I ran across at Art Renewal, a website devoted to the celebration of classical art.
It was painted in 1907 by Peder Monsted.
I've always been troubled by the portrayal of sunsets and other naturally gorgeous scenes, in that it's hard to portray such things without seeming to have exaggerated for sentimental effect. No matter how faithful one is to reality, the viewer thinks,"Was the sunset/beach/parrot/rainbow/woman REALLY that pretty, or is the artist just dolling it up for a sweet image?" Without photographic proof, most viewers in this cynical world must assume the latter.
What I like about the above piece is that, while Monsted doesn't shy away from the sunset's splendor, he tempers it with the dark, foreboding foreground, and that swampy crap in the water. Looking at the water, you can sense the moist chill setting in, you can smell the reeds rotting in the silt, you can hear the buzz of insects and the occasional plop of a frog... maybe even feel a few mosquito bites. By acknowledging nature's dark, damp, dirty twilight, and placing it right beneath our noses, Monsted earns the credibility he needs to serve up that gorgeous sunset without provoking our skepticism.
And the sunset isn't diminished or compromised by the murky bog. If anything, the juxtaposition enhances both elements: while the bog assures us of the sunset's reality, the sunset alerts us to the beauty of the bog. Reciprocal gains; three cheers for smart painting.
Here's the dessert-only version that Thomas Kinkade would have painted: