Some people love autumn. They say it’s their favourite month. I, for one, do not. For me it connotes back to school, end of blissful summer, the darkening of days and lowering of already mediocre British temperatures. But what autumn does phenomenally well is colour.
Artists have for centuries been attracted to depicting the seasons, not least because they symbolise change – in fact, the ever-changing. They provide a filter through which nature can continually be viewed anew, and provide opportunity for reflection on themes such as transience, birth and decay.
A striking early representation of autumn is Guiseppe Arcimboldo’s Autumn, 1573 in the Louvre. The abundance of produce assembled into this surreal portrait brings to mind autumn as a time of nature’s harvest, when the fruits of spring’s labours are reaped.
Guiseppe Arcimboldo, Autumn, 1573, Louvre, Paris
The anthropomorphism of Arcimboldo is continued in later Pre-Raphaelite representations of the seasons. Edward Burne-Jones created four gouaches on panel of the seasons in 1869, the female form used to breathe human life – and with it, a human understanding – into the natural world.
Edward Burne-Jones, Autumn, 1869
Burne-Jones derived inspiration from William Morris’s poem The Lapse of the Year, as too did Walter Crane in his later Masque of the Four Seasons, c.1903-9, where allegorical female performers dramatise the abstract notion of time’s cyclical passing.
Walter Crane, Masque of the Four Seasons, c.1903-9
The depiction of autumn in all its glory, of burnt reds, oranges, browns and golds, found glorious expression in the work of the Impressionists. For artists such as Claude Monet, painting the landscape through the changing seasons was central to capturing the fleeting moment. A work such as Autumn Effect at Argenteuil, 1873, in the Courtauld Gallery, London, does just that – the dazzling array of oranges and browns in the trees and reflected on the water make this scene as much about nature and time as it is the Parisian suburbs.
Claude Monet, Autumn Effect at Argenteuil, 1873, Courtauld Gallery, London
Gustav Klimt’s sumptuous depiction of fallen autumn leaves takes visual representation of the seasons further towards the decorative – the pure pleasure in colour – the small and numerous leaves as conducive a subject for Klimt’s fondness of pattern as the Impressionists’ pointillist style. That something can look so glorious and alive whilst in the process of decay is uniquely uplifting.
Gustav Klimt, The Birch Wood, 1903
We have the pleasure at Somerset & Wood of continually looking at new and interesting artworks, and we have some beautiful evocations of autumn’s glory among our own collections.
English artist Frank Fidler uses the soft and shimmering qualities of pastel to great effect in representing the autumn landscape much like the Impressionists, whilst his compositions, which focus on shape and an awareness of the picture plane, show evidence of his earlier abstraction.
PJ Haughton’s watercolours depict the British landscape throughout the changing seasons, and there is something reassuringly familiar about many of his views. He is particularly skilful at capturing autumn's low sun and the atmospheric fading light of late afternoon.
In contrast, Peter John Stuckey captures the vibrancy of fall in New England, USA. In this drawing at Bolton Lodge, Vermont, crackling with Stuckey’s characteristic staccato pen work, the forest is almost literally ablaze with colour.
Peter Stuckey, Bolton Lodge, Vermont, USA, 1978 - Somerset & Wood Fine Art
These wonderful artworks make me think that perhaps autumn is not so bad after all. For me, it is best viewed on my wall; the amber leaves, the crisp country walk, the harvested pumpkin - are lived best of all in the imagination. This is what art offers us: a vision of nostalgia and possibility.
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