We are blessed in the UK, with millions of acres of glorious countryside in which to admire the flora and fauna, and enjoy a seasonal stroll. What makes the British countryside so stirring is the variety of natural environments, from green rolling hills, dense ancient woodlands and wild coastlines, to fields and villages scattered with meandering footpaths and waterways.
In Spring this year our article Walking for Well-being explored the physical and mental health benefits of a good walk and spending time in nature. Whilst it is a little chillier (and a lot more wet and windy) this time of year, the mood boosting benefits to getting out-and-about and enjoy the changing seasons are still there for the taking. The British landscape evolves throughout the year, altering the ambience as cloud cover varies, light fluctuates, and temperature shifts, presenting a plethora of panoramas from season to season...and even moment by moment.
So tumultuous and captivating are our scenic winter landscapes that they have proved inspiring to artists time and time again. Whitewalls publication says of the seasonal artistic style “Winter paintings can convey a sense of stillness and peace in the observer, or can induce an unsettling feeling where bleakness of existence seems reflected in a desolate, winter landscape.”
Many of you will be familiar with early 19th Century landscape painters John Constable and JMW Turner, who were masters of the subject, and used light and atmosphere to depict romantic scenes reflecting the beauty and harmony of rural England. Landscape painting, however, has not always been so revered historically as, for many years, it wasn’t considered ‘to be of any use’, unlike the religious themed artwork of the Gothic and Byzantine movements.
It wasn’t until the 15th Century that landscapes - particularly wintry paintings - appeared in Western high art. Dutch Renaissance painter Pieter Bruegel the Elder still painted religious works, but specialised in art portraying common people engaged in everyday activities, and many of his pieces would feature a landscape element populated by peasants hunting or working.
In 1565 he painted Winter Landscape with Ice-skates and Bird-trap, depicting an icy village scene with bare-branched trees, snow-topped cottages surrounding the central illustration of peasants skating on the ice. The piece is said to be an allegory for the dangers and temptations of human existence - with the heavily featured elements of ‘skating on ice’ and bird traps symbolising the uncertainty of life and its many hazards, respectively. Pieter Bruegel the Elder was a pioneer of this style of painting and what is now known as genre painting.
In the 16th Century the Protestant Reformation (the major theological movement in Western Christianity which challenged the authority of the Roman Catholic Church) was closely linked with the Northern Renaissance movement, and saw Protestant countries banning religious imagery. As a result, landscape paintings, portraiture, and still life became more and more popular during this time, entering the realms of high art, and becoming a legitimate and respected theme.
In the late 18th Century, Romanticism led to a further surge in the production of landscape paintings, due to the movement’s ‘desire to see literature and art which focused on emotion, self-reflexivity, and the natural world’. Caspar David Friedrich is arguably the most well-known landscape painter of the time and his work dramatically balanced the portrayal of profound human emotions with atmospheric landscapes. His piece A Walk at Dusk is said to be contemplative of mortality, as it illustrates a lone male figure with a bowed head surrounded by the wintry decay of nature, a ghostly lunar element and tomb-like boulders.
Impressionism in the 19th century saw artists such as Claude Monet and Camille Pissarro creating an abundance of winter themed paintings, which they referred to as ‘effects de neige’ (effects of snow). Monet himself produced more than 140 wintry scenes, including some from his famous Haystack series. In 1873, French painter Edmond Morin painted Effet de Neige, an aquarelle and gouche depiction of warmly dressed people walking and riding through a snowy tree-lined field, in typically loose and demonstrative Impressionistic style.
Contemporary art is influenced by the world’s impressive natural vistas still, as can be seen in the whimsically narrative work of Joe Ramm, in such pieces as Seven Sisters, which features a woman and her dogs pensively ambling along undulating clifftops, carpeted by bristly winter-worn grass, whilst taking in the bracing sight of a windy seascape and distant storms.
Chris Ross Williamson's characterful artwork revolves around a central character and his canine companion delighting in their expeditions to a variety of British inland and seaside locations. Recently released original paintings Misty Fens, Tractor Tracks, and The Crust are spectacularly seasonal offerings of the doting pair wrapped up warm and wandering through snowy scenes. The winter season is unmistakably represented by tufts of dune grass peeping through snowy blankets, and ghostly trees and their bare branches cutting haunting, yet comforting, figures as they reach out into the icy air.
Scottish artist, Nicola Wakeling, takes full advantage of the spectacular views in her Outer Hebridean home and creates pieces which perfectly portray the immense, ever changing ‘exposed’ nature of the landscape and the arresting effects of the elements. Limited edition Winter Showers is a simple, yet powerful piece which illustrates a faint rainbow appearing from beneath the clouds which hang heavily over an expanse of coastline, and seems to convey a moment of calm and hope within the dramatic and sometimes unforgiving landscape.
Even in our cities, the seasonal effects on nature can be seen as the leaves fall, and previously hidden landmarks begin to appear through the bare branches of trees. Contemporary cityscape artist, Jo Quigley, is fascinated by the urban landscape and produces striking compositions of our capital city London, but also takes full advantage of the effects of the changing seasons - the fluctuations of light, and shifting colours and shapes of the natural elements. Her limited edition print Carousel is at once dynamic and nostalgic, and depicts a traditional carousel on London’s South Bank, with the London Eye and Big Ben just visible through the angular naked branches of winter trees, which reach up into a dazzling blue crisp winter sky.
In Hampshire, we have plenty of places to wander and take-in the breathtaking winter views. The New Forest is particularly impressive at this time of year, from its glossy holly bushes and frost covered flora, to an abundance of wildlife including ponies, pigs, donkeys and deer. With fewer leaves on the trees, Winter is also a great time to try and spot Treecreepers and Woodpeckers. Wildlife artists like Aaminah Snowdon, Anthony Dobson, Nicky Litchfield and Jake Winkle would certainly be spoiled for inspiration here.
After a pleasurable day of exploring the landscapes of the Forest and surrounding areas, why not pop in and see us at our gallery in Fordingbridge. Where you will find lots of landscape, country walk, and wildlife themed sculpture, original art, and prints to take back home with you as a lasting memory...or maybe an extra special Christmas gift.