It's no secret I had little affection for the art of 4e's core books. Frankly, I've ignored most of the stuff produced for 4e, and what little I have seen hasn't really inspired me to seek out the art associated with it.
But Ben Wootten is turning out some exceptional work that really grabs me. Over on his Deviant Art site, he's posted three pics from the Heroes of the Forgotten Kingdoms book which is part of the Essentials line, I think. This battle scene has a few dungeon-punky elements, and more than a few nods to the art direction of the LotR movies, but the anatomy, weapons, and armour are largely toned done from the excesses we saw in 3e art.
"Kraken" invokes the best of Wayne Reynold's "wall of action" pieces without feeling completely over-the-top or out of control. Instead of the directionless vertigo that some of the art in 4e's core books used to create mood, the tilt here very much guides the eye through the action while still giving you that sense of unbalanced, roller-coaster action.
And how about that archer at the center of it all? Here's a better look at her. I'm hoping I'm not insulting Mr. Wootten when I compare this to other fantasy artists, but it really invokes the best of many of my favorites: Elmore's you-are-there atmosphere with Reynold's attention to tiny details and evocation of how we actually play the game, coupled with Eva Widermann's arresting, character-full faces. And, of course, "Saving the Best for Last" by Daniel Horne.
Mr. Wootten mentions Kate Irwin as the art director for this book, and she's not listed in my 4e PHB, so we could be seeing a new direction in art for D&D. Maybe this is just an attempt to look back at older styles for Essentials, or perhaps follow the same trend in fantasy art that the Paizo books have captured so well? I can't really say, but whatever they're doing at WotC, I sincerely hope they keep it up!