Click on photos to enlarge.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Painting the Seasons

Très Riches Heures du
Duc de Berry,
October, 1412-16,
Limbourg Brothers
Très Riches Heures du
Duc de Berry,
February, 1412-16, 
Limbourg Brothers
Très Riches Heures du
Duc de Berry,
June, 1412-16,
Limbourg Brothers

We in the northern climates have been witnessing the second most noticeable event involving the passage of time--the changing of the seasons. We're all conscious on the change from night to day. It happens daily. It's gradual, but far from subtle. The passage of the seasons, on the other hand, is both. We have our warm sunny days in October, even in November and December, but we also have blustery, cold, wintry days (snow flurries yesterday) in all three months. As artists, we have, most of us, also celebrated the changing of the seasons by painting them. Sometimes, we even do so without consciously thinking about it. Perhaps the earliest paintings to do this were those of the Duc du Berry's lavishly illustrated Book of Hours (top, basically, a prayer calendar). The Limbourg Brothers, around 1412-16, devoted the upper third of each brightly painted page to a surprisingly advanced astrological table while the lower portion depicted the seasonal labors for that month. In June (above, center) we see mowing and raking and staking. October (above, right) is a time of plowing and sowing (except for grapes, a grain-based agriculture dominated France in the Middle Ages).

Winter,  1625, Jan van Goyen
Summer, 1625, Jan van Goyen
More subtle and sophisticated, Dutch artists such as Jan van Goyen have long been fascinated by the four seasons. His round, pendant pairs, Summer and Winter (1625), while not showing the same geographic scene as some of his fellow artists often did at the time, nonetheless depicts the Dutch predilection for enjoying the seasons to their fullest, whether bathed in the warm, gentle light of summer or the harsh, cold blue-greys of the winter months.

Woman in an Enclosure, Spring Sun, Eragny Field, 1887, Camille Pissarro

The Four Seasons,
Spring, Summer,
Autumn, Winter,
Francois Boucher

In fact, colors themselves are very much seasonal. And no artists explored this seasonal element more than the French Impressionists such as Pissarro in his Woman in an Enclosure, Spring Sun, Eragny Field (above) painted in 1887. Pale yellows dominate the entire painting, even the blues in the sky. Delicate, spring-like textures are everywhere and the overall feeling is one of freshness and brilliant light. Before that, during the Rococo era, François Boucher painted for Madame de Pompadour, the mistress of French King Louis XV, The Four Seasons (left). Spring and Autumn are pastoral scenes while Summer depicts three women nudely cooling themselves near the waters of a fountain. Winter finds one of them bundled in furs, seated in a sleigh. 

Pieter Brueghel the Elder's 1565 Hunters in the Snow (bottom) contrasts the harshness of the winter scene with the serene beauty of the snow-covered landscape, both natural and man made, as well as efforts to survive and enjoy the season. Moreover, aside from human labors, pleasures, colors, and contrasts, the seasons also have symbolic implications. Spring has long been associated with birth, flowers, and love; summer, with bathing, ripeness, maturity, and pleasure. Autumn is seen as a time of harvest, plenty, and at the same time physical decline. Winter is associated with rest, survival, and sometimes death. And of course, in modern times, we associate winter's arrival with Christmas. Then, a few days later, we celebrate surviving another year. (From that point on we just try to survive.) You folks in the deep South just don't know what sublime joys you're missing not having the changing seasons to contemplate and celebrate. Brrrrr....

Hunters in the Snow (Return from the Hunt), 1565, Pieter Brueghel (the elder)

No comments:

Post a Comment