Written by Kathryn Cooperman; edited by Katie Constantine.
Cover image per Wikimedia Commons.
Spring is finally here! We are starting to feel warmer temperatures, see nature abounding with new life, and perhaps gain a renewed sense of hope as the Covid-19 pandemic slowly starts to lift. For me, this spring means getting outside, admiring the budding trees in Central Park and on the streets of Manhattan, and revisiting my favorite New York City museums, which have just begun to reopen.
From an art-historical perspective, it’s always fascinating for me to examine how various artists treat a universally-experienced subject. Below, I’ll describe 6 poignant works of art that portray spring, which span varying art movements, mediums, and cultures. Though each artist’s treatment of the subject differs, commonalities abound in the form of renewed life, bountiful color, and excitement for the days ahead.
Vignette, The Kiss, by Kerry James Marshall, 2018. In this beautiful scene by Marshall, a young couple, perched on the stairs leading up to a house, shares an intimate moment. The scene feels very private and sweet, almost as if we are voyeurs looking in. I love how the right leg of the male figure is bent slightly, and how his right hand grips the railing – it makes the moment feel very sudden, as if he were taken by surprise by his lover’s embrace and kiss. Daisies, leaves, and ivy encircle and enliven the scene. Daisies, which represent new beginnings and love, are reminiscent of spring, and a perfect addition to this charming vignette, which creates excitement and anticipation for the days to come.
Bullfinch and Weeping Cherry by Katsushika Hokusai, ca. 1834. This Japanese woodblock print features two harbingers of spring – a bullfinch, and an abundance of cherry blossoms whose blooms signify the start of the spring season in Japan. Both subjects are set against a brilliant blue background. Hokusai’s use of perspective in this work is fascinating – it seems as if we are viewing the bird’s underside and gazing upwards at a beautiful blue sky. The inscription to the right of the scene describes the bird and flowers, further emphasizing the subjects depicted, and also interpreting them in an erotic way. The image as a whole portrays excitement for the new season.
Spring Bouquet by Pierre-Auguste Renoir, 1866. This exquisite painting depicts a bountiful bouquet. It was one of Renoir’s earlier works in which he still drew heavy influence from realist painter Gustave Courbet, so the flowers are rendered extremely precisely rather than with the blurred borders that appear in his later paintings. The variety of flowers, detail, and array of colors make this work beautiful to behold. Pinks, greens, blues, yellows, and purples pour out of an exquisite blue and white vase, the various colors reminding us of warmer days to come.
Early Spring by Guo Xi, 1072. A hallmark of the Song Dynasty, Early Spring conveys a sumptuous natural landscape. At 35’x52,’ this scroll painting is extremely large and provides a comprehensive view of nature just beginning to emerge on a spring day. I love the artist’s use of texture and shading in this work, as he uses multiple brushstrokes to embellish each cliff, and jagged lines to represent each tree beginning to come to life. Within this scene, Guo Xi pioneered a technique called “the angle of totality,” in which he represents the landscape from multiple angles, claiming that there is no singular way to view a painting, and thus rendering an extensive portrayal of the spring season. The poem in the upper right hand corner further emphasizes the subject matter of the painting, beautifully discussing the activity of nature on an early spring morning.
Wind, Sunshine and Flowers by Alma Thomas, 1968. Thomas takes an abstract approach as she depicts the natural elements in an abstract way. Here, the idea of nature comes to life amongst repetitive, colorful, columnar brushstrokes. She engages negative space in the white borders around the brushstrokes, which form semicircles and represent wind delicately swaying the colorful abundance of flowers. Thomas was a firm believer in focusing her paintings around color, stating that “…color is life. Light is the mother of color. Light reveals to us the spirit and living soul of the world through colors.” Her insightful approach as an artist, and this painting, are perfect ways to welcome the spring season.
Spring, Georgia O’Keeffe, 1923-1924. Here, the artist paints her husband, photographer Alfred Stieglitz’s studio in Lake George, New York, on a bright spring day. A flagpole, situated on a mound of grass, soars upwards and curves slightly, suggesting the expansiveness of the blue sky above. The flagpole and roof of the studio cast dark gray shadows on the building’s facade, conveying the presence of the sun. Above the roof, swirls of purples, yellows, and greens abound to suggest blooming trees, which are topped by puffy clouds. What interests me most about this painting is the minimalist, flattened rendering of the studio, which we also see reflected in the artist’s portrayals of New York City, contrasted with the blurrier trees, clouds and grass. This juxtaposition contrasts architecture and nature in a stark way, further emphasizing the natural elements.
Which of these depictions resonates with you the most? Do you have another favorite artist or work that you’d like to share with us? Feel free to leave a note in the comments, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org, or connect with us on Instagram or Facebook.