The Simple Things
A SPRING PALETTE
Venturing out with sketchbooks and canvases, these artists hoped to capture the vibrancy of the season as they saw it, preserving it for our perennial pleasure
ALFRED SISLEY The Small Meadows in Spring, 1880 Alfred Sisley was a British Impressionist painter who lived in France. This canvas shows the path that once ran along the bank of the River Seine, near Moret-sur-Loing in north-central France. The figure in the foreground is the artist’s daughter, Jeanne, who appears as an embodiment of spring. Sisley was committed to painting en plein air (in the open air), and this canvas was completed on the spot.
HAROLD JONES The Black Door, about 1935 An open door reveals a sunny garden, with trees beginning to bud and a lively group of starlings feeding on the lawn. Harold Jones was a British painter, printmaker and children’s illustrator. Based on a sketch made while staying in Spondon, Derbyshire, the door’s reflections blur the line between interior and exterior as the warmth of spring spills into the house.
DAME LAURA KNIGHT Spring, 1916–20 With its blossoming trees, newborn lambs and jaunty couple setting out for a day’s fishing, this colourful painting celebrates spring in all its glory. Dame Laura Knight painted it in Cornwall during the First World War, when fears of a German invasion saw many artists accused of spying. Consequently, painting outside became illegal and Knight was forced to make her preparatory sketches while hiding under bushes “in dread of being taken off to prison.”
WILLIAM HENRY HUNT Primroses and Bird’s Nest, 1840s William Henry Hunt was admired for his meticulous watercolour paintings featuring careful arrangements of flowers, fruit and birds’ nests. The naturalistic colours in this image typify his approach. Nicknamed ‘Bird’s Nest Hunt’, the influential British artist believed in working directly from nature, although physical disability eventually forced him to work from the confines of his studio.
CHARLES ALLSTON COLLINS May, in the Regent’s Park, 1851 This painting shows the view looking east across London’s Regent’s Park. Charles Allston Collins likely painted it at his family home in Hanover Terrace, which overlooked the park, enabling him to observe the grazing sheep and promenaders. The title can be taken as referring both to the month of May and to the large flowering hawthorn tree (also known as the May tree) seen in the foreground.
PHILIP WILSON STEER Bird-nesting, Ludlow, 1898 British Impressionist Philip Wilson Steer set this in the Shropshire countryside around Ludlow, evoking the warm spring sunshine by its contrast of light and shadow. The scene shows children playing. However, their fun comes at the expense of nesting birds, whose eggs they are stealing – a cruel activity, illegal today.
HENRY TONKS Spring Days, 1928 Originally trained as a surgeon and later employed as a British war artist, Henry Tonks had become an influential art teacher by the time of this painting. Rays of spring sunlight stream into a domestic interior where two young girls are arranging flowers. One attentively positions the stems, while the other daydreams. By juxtaposing spring flowers with youthful beauty, Tonks reminds us that both are transitory and destined to fade.
ALFRED PARSONS ‘ When Nature Painted all Things Gay’, exhibited 1887 Well known for his paintings of English country life, Alfred Parsons often presented idyllic scenes untainted by the developments of modernity. Here he shows a shepherd and his flock resting in a shady grove surrounded by blossoming trees. The herdsman, neglecting his duties, fishes in a meandering stream while his sheep enjoy the lush grass. Parsons’ unindustrialised countryside is presented as a place of peace and calm.