At Large  April 14, 2023  Cynthia Close

The Art of Spring: 10 Paintings to Mark the Season

Created: Fri, 04/14/2023 - 09:00
Author: anna

In the spirit of the English poet Alexander Pope, art, like hope, springs eternal. Many artists have recognized the uplifting power of spring, particularly in times of societal and political upheaval. These ten artworks remind us that spring always follows the dark days of winter.

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Botticelli's Primavera, a goddess with flowing hair surrounded by other greek gods in a forest

Sandro Botticelli, Allegory of Spring, 1482

Primavera, also known as the Allegory of Spring (1482), by the Italian Renaissance painter Sandro Botticelli (1445-1510) features Venus, the goddess of love, at the center, with Flora, the goddess of flowers, on the right. Crammed with mythological figures that include Zephyrus, the nymph Chloris, Cupid, the Three Graces, and Mercury, this is one of the most widely discussed and analyzed paintings in all of art history. 

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Jacob Grimmer painting of a bleak hillside in early spring

Jacob Grimmer, Spring , c. 1550-90.

The work of Flemish landscape painter Jacob Grimmer (1525-1590) might be confused with another Netherlandish artist, Pieter Brueghel the Elder. However, Grimmer broke away from Brueghel and practiced a more naturalistic form of painting, returning frequently to the four seasons and the twelve months of the year as subject matter. Grimmer captures Spring (1550-1590) very early in the season, just when the snow is gone but before any green shoots or blossoms begin to appear.

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Alma Tadema painting of a festive procession through ancient Rome

Lawrence Alma-Tadema, Spring, 1894.

Another painting entitled Spring is one of the most popular works of art by the Dutch artist Lawrence Alma-Tadema (1836-1912). Best known for his works depicting antiquity, Tadema relied on his friends and relatives as models for crowds of joyful people, jostling each other on a flower-strewn street in Rome celebrating Cerealia, a festival for Ceres the ancient Roman Goddess of grain. 

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van gogh painting of two small fishing boats on a river in spring with a bridge in the background

Vincent van Gogh, Fishing in Spring, the Pont de Clichy (Asnières), 1887.

We associate Van Gogh (1853-1890) with his paintings of sunflowers executed in the vibrant colors of summer, but he also painted cool, airy, moments, like the one in Fishing in Spring, the Pont de Clichy (Asnières) (1887). Fishermen are early harbingers of spring, taking their boats out on the water as soon as the ice melts. Van Gogh painted this scene on the Seine where he often worked with his friend the neo-impressionist painter Paul Signac (1863-1935).

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Alphonse Mucha poster of a female figure with flowing hair

Alphonse Mucha, Spring, 1897.

The Czech Art Nouveau painter Alphonse Mucha (1860-1938) worked in decorative arts and theater design as well as portrait painting. His distinctive graphic style was popularized in theater posters and he shared a studio for a time with Paul Gaugin. Spring (1897), one of Mucha’s posters featuring the four seasons, typically shows his preference for beautiful, barefoot young women whose flowing hair mimics the flowers and vines that encircle them.

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Luc-Olivier Merson painting of a nude woman stretching in the grass

Luc-Oliver Merson, Awakening Spring, 1884.

The late nineteenth-century was a hotbed for allegorical paintings of spring featuring naked, nubile, young women whose sexuality was awakening, bursting forth along with delicate green shoots and cherry blossoms. French artist and illustrator Luc-Oliver Merson (1846-1920) painted several versions of the theme seen in Awakening Spring from 1884. Popular in his own time, Merson was awarded a Prix de Rome in 1869, though his work has largely been forgotten.

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Grant Wood painting of a man working in a garden with houses and church in the background

Grant Wood, Spring in Town, 1941.

Not all artist’s thoughts of spring turn to sex. Spring in Town (1941), by Regionalist painter Grant Wood (1891-1942), demonstrates a less sensual approach to the season through gendered images of labor as men and women move from indoors to outside in small-town America. Best known for his stark double portrait, American Gothic (1930), Wood’s iconic representation of a farmer and his daughter has become one of the most parodied paintings in art of the twentieth-century.

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Béla Iványl-Grünwald painting of cherry blossom trees

Béla Iványl-Grünwald, Springtime Landscape, 1910.

Hungarian painter Béla Iványl-Grünwald (1867-1940) was a modernist who focused on painting en plein air but whose mature work, such as that seen in Springtime Landscape (1910) boasts the vibrant color typical of the Fauves. Although influenced by the work of French Post-Impressionist Paul Gauguin, Iványl-Grünwald spent most of his life living and exhibiting his work in Hungry.

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Frances Macdonald-Macnair painting of two female figures in flowing gowns

Frances Macdonald Macnair, Spring, c.1900-05.

Frances Macdonald Macnair (1873-1921) was a prominent artist in Glasgow, Scotland, along with her sister, artist-designer Margaret Macdonald Macintosh. The influence of the Symbolist William Blake can be seen in Macnair’s mystical painting of Spring. Together the sisters exhibited a variety of artistic work across Europe including embroidery, metalwork, and watercolors, but Frances’ achievements are not well-known as her husband destroyed much of her work after her death.

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Alma Thomas abstract painting of a green pattern

Alma Thomas, Spring Grass, 1973.

Alma Thomas (1891-1978) was a Columbia and Howard University-educated African American Abstract Expressionist painter whose work was underappreciated until 1972, when, at the age of 81, she was the first African-American woman to have a solo exhibition at the Whitney Museum of American Art. Thomas was also the first African-American woman to have artwork displayed at the White House and acquired for their permanent collection during the Obama administration. Her color-saturated painting Spring Grass (1973) in her typical late style vibrates with new growth.