Enriching the Arts

Autumn Art

Artists depict season’s rich symbolism

“Autumn is a second spring where every leaf is a flower.” – Albert Camus

Autumn arrives with September, as the leaves begin to turn different shades of colour and fall off the trees as the nights grow longer. Many artists, such as Monet, Van Gogh and Constable, found inspiration in autumn, with its changing shades of colour and rich traditions and symbolism.

John Everett Millais, Autumn Leaves.

John Everett Millais, Autumn Leaves.

Symbolism and Autumn

Artists make use of symbolism all the time in their artwork to express and explore ideas or convey mental states not readily apparent to the viewer. The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines symbolism as “The art or practice of using symbols especially by investing things with a symbolic meaning or by expressing the invisible or intangible by means of visible or sensuous representations.”

Autumn is used as a symbol in both literature and the visual arts, often to convey themes of decay or death. This can take place on a physical level but can also be a state of mind. Often it functions as a necessary end, allowing something new to take its place.

There are also many other themes associated with this season. Since the harvest takes place in autumn, the season is associated with bountifulness and plenty. Another major theme associated with autumn is melancholy, a mental and physical withdrawal as the winter approaches.

John Constable, Cenotaph to the Memory of Sir Joshua Reynolds.

John Constable, Cenotaph to the Memory of Sir Joshua Reynolds.

Famous Artists and Autumn

Artists often made use of the many themes associated with autumn to symbolize ideas in their paintings and sketches. One of these artists was John Everett Millais, with his piece Autumn Leaves. In the painting, four girls are gathering autumn leaves to burn in the twilight. The dying landscape and the twilight setting express ideas of waning and decline, of the transience of youth.

Another artist who used the symbols associated was John Constable. In his painting Cenotaph to the Memory of Sir Joshua Reynolds (1833-6), Constable heightens the sense of loss and grief found in the painting with the autumn landscape surrounding the stone memorial at the centre. Again, autumn functions as a reminder of mortality.

Other artists inspired by the season include Vincent Van Gogh and Nicolas Poussin. With its changing colours and associated themes, it is likely that even more artists will take inspiration from autumn this season.

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