Painting spring: a snapshot of a season

By Holly Downes, and

Visual Arts Contributors discuss a selection of paintings which epitomise spring

Claude Monet’s ‘Springtime’, By

Set in the beautiful gardens of Giverny in France, ‘Springtime’ depicts Monet’s 18-year-old stepdaughter, Suzanne Hoschedé, talking to his son, Jean Monet. Sitting amongst an orchard bursting with sweeps of purple bluebells and blossoming trees, Monet froze the beauty of the spring season within his flowing brush strokes. Spring is a time where the sounds of birdsong flood every space, where flowers burst from their buds and where we can mellow out in the shade and absorb the beauty of nature – features epitomised in this painting.

Monet’s artistic skill forces us to bring the painting into existence

Imagining the sways of the trees and the blossom petals flowing in the gentle, warm breeze, the light chatter between Suzanne and Jean, and the freshness of the air invites a wash of serenity over the spectator. Monet’s artistic skill forces us to bring the painting into existence – to listen to the birds chirping, to feel the heat brush past us, to smell the sweet scent of blossom. It invites a state of calmness – our worries disappearing as we focus on the finer delicacies of nature. Imagining yourself sitting amongst the fresh green grass, admiring the array of whites and purple speaks of a time I cannot wait to experience in the coming months.

Marc Chagall’s ‘Crossing of the Red Sea’, By

Finding myself writing this at the height of the invasion of Ukraine, it seemed important to reflect that Springtime does not always accompany the themes of renewal and rebirth we readily bestow on it. In truth, the turning of the seasons can also suggest the repetition of violence and inhumanity upon the innocent. In particular, celebrations of Easter and the Festival of Passover conceal a period of terror for Jewish people.

Depicting the Israelites’ passage across the Red Sea from the Book of Exodus, the Jewish artist Marc Chagall highlights this distinctive divergence of biblical spring narratives. While at the pinnacle of his painting the white angel leads the Israelites to the promised land, this is framed through two alternative symbols. King David appears on the left, a subtle evocation of the history of the Jewish people, whilst on the right appears the crucifix, a prophecy of a dark Jewish future. The mythical identification of Jews with collective responsibility for Christ’s crucifixion displays how presentations of communal rebirth depend upon the blind marginalisation and suppression of a social ‘other’. To highlight this duality, Chagall presents a dialogue which showcases both liberation and maltreatment.

A dialogue which showcases both liberation and maltreatment

Moses, swathed in a dense primary yellow, commands the sea to drown the Egyptians, engulfing them in a fiery mass of red. Placing this horror at the heart of an image of ethereal blue, Chagall emphasises how the human compulsion to vengeance is central to our perceptions of renewal. Even if Moses can be credited with punishing irredeemable evils, Chagall makes clear regeneration bears all the moral complications of the act of preservation.

Rob Ryan’s ‘First Morning of Spring’, By

In the words of Rob Ryan “the first morning of spring in the park; the smell in the air is fresh and full of promise and new beginnings.” Spring for me always brings that sigh of relief for having made it through the winter darkness and knowing longer, sunnier days are to arrive imminently. An artwork which provides reflection and delight during these months is Rob Ryan’s papercut of ‘The First Morning of Spring’. Ryan’s work combines delicate detailing of floral patterns with poetic text which encourages the viewer to pause, read about and contemplate the arrival of spring.

Depicted is a woodland scene, either side offering a differing perspectives of Spring: one which rejoices for the coming light after darker times, the other expresses a contrasting guilt at having felt joy within the colder, dark days. The texture of the footpath is created from small repetition of “I am not alone” and a figure stands stoically at the top of the path amongst the leafy trees.

Ryan encourages an alternative perspective: allowing growth and joy even in the darkest moments

My personal interpretation would be that while Spring is typically associated with rebirth and rejuvenation — Ryan encourages an alternative perspective: allowing growth and joy even in the darkest moments. It suggests there does not have to be the same standardised path to reaching “a brand new start” but rather that we can take encouragements to be renewed and reminded we are not alone.

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