Art Unlocked is Art UK's online talk series run in partnership with Bloomberg Philanthropies. Every Wednesday afternoon, speakers from UK museums and galleries share highlights from their collections. From bronzes to billboards and portraits to prints, a vast variety of artworks feature in this eclectic series.
As the leaves turn their fiery golds and crimsons and the evenings start drawing in, we've been delving into Art Unlocked's archives to find artworks that celebrate the wonder of autumn. Here are five seasonal highlights from the series so far.
1. 'Autumn' by Joos de Momper the younger and workshop of Jan Brueghal the elder
During her Art Unlocked talk, Victoria Osborne, Fine Arts Curator at Birmingham Museums Trust, presented the artwork Autumn, pictured below.
Victoria introduced this artwork, commenting that viewers might wonder why she chose 'a picture with very obvious condition issues.' She goes on to explain that one of the positive features of Art UK is that the site shows all artworks, from those in perfect condition to others with problems – and this means important works kept in storage for preservation purposes may actually be rediscovered. And that is exactly what happened with this painting.
In 2019, the work featured on the BBC Four programme, Britain's Lost Masterpieces. Dr Bendor Grosvenor, who first spotted the painting on Art UK, suspected the work might be that of Jan Brueghel the elder. A huge amount of research, conservation and restoration took place, revealing the sumptuous artwork beneath and enabling the artwork to be attributed to Joos de Momper the younger (1564–1635) and the workshop of Jan Brueghel the elder (1568–1625).
The restored autumnal scene vividly and jubilantly displays the bounty of autumn by showing cider-making in action. Look carefully and, as Victoria highlights, you can spot each stage of the process, from the gathering of the apples to their pressing into juice and its subsequent storage in barrels to make cider.
Art Unlocked: Birmingham Museums Trust took place on 17th August 2022 and you can watch a recording of the full talk here:
2. 'Speed Breakers' by Hemali Bhuta
With the crisp crunch of autumnal leaves underfoot, visitors to Yorkshire Sculpture Park must look closely at the sprawling roots at their feet or they might just miss the subtle Speed Breakers by Hemali Bhuta (b.1978).
As Sarah Coulson, Curator at Yorkshire Sculpture Park, explains in her Art Unlocked talk, 'this work is very slight, it's hidden, it could very easily be missed or mistaken for something else. It invites you to do a double take and look carefully, look closely. It demands that you're alert and awake to the environment around you.'
The individual bronze sculptures, as Sarah explains, are cast from the roots of a fallen beech tree nearby and are interspersed amongst real tree roots along the woodland walk.
Art Unlocked: Yorkshire Sculpture Park took place on 8th September 2021 and you can watch a recording of the full talk here:
3. 'Leccinum versipelle' by Beatrix Potter
The delicate beauty of the rusty orange and earthy brown toadstools and mushrooms popping up at this time of the year is brilliantly captured in this watercolour, Leccinum versipelle, by Beatrix Potter (1866–1943). As Faye Morrissey, Manager & Curator of The Armitt, explains in her Art Unlocked talk, this is just one of the 300 works by Potter that predominantly depict fungi held in The Armitt's collection in the Lake District.
As Faye explains, 'Beatrix first became interested in fungi from an early age, when nannies would tell her stories of fairies dancing round mushrooms. So, she was really captured by the idea of magic as well as their colours and their shapes and their textures.' Beatrix Potter's interest grew and developed into scientific documentation, as you can see in this work and others found in the vast collection.
Art Unlocked: The Armitt took place on 14th September 2022 and you can watch a recording of the full talk here:
4. 'Autumn, Kinnordy' by James McIntosh Patrick
Unlike the scientific accuracy of the previous artwork, this piece, Autumn, Kinnordy by James McIntosh Patrick (1907–1998) is a composite image. As Anna Robertson, Fine and Applied Art Manager at the McManus explains in her Art Unlocked talk, it, and other works by Patrick, were 'based on sketches of landscape features which were later worked up in the studio into elaborate, seemingly realist compositions.'
Anna goes on to reveal that 'Patrick constructed his landscapes, combining different views in an arrangement that satisfied his own idea of a perfectly balanced composition. Not only would he wilfully adapt landscapes in front of him to meet his compositional demands, he edited significantly. Road markings, road signs and traffic lights never appear in his landscapes.' The result is this perfectly rich and nostalgic autumnal scene.
Art Unlocked: The McManus, Dundee's Art Gallery and Museum took place on 3rd November 2021 and you can watch a recording of the full talk here:
5. '1929 (fireworks)' by Ben Nicholson
Perhaps showing preparations for vast pyrotechnic displays to brighten autumn's dark skies, The Pier Arts Centre's Art Unlocked features a striking still life by Ben Nicholson (1894–1982), entitled 1929 (fireworks).
The bold work, as explained by Andrew Parkinson, Curator, 'comes from a period of change and development in the artist's work. During the late 1920s and early '30s, Nicholson was moving from a position of purely figurative art towards a more formal abstract language of geometry and planes of colour.'
Art Unlocked: The Pier Arts Centre took place on 23rd June 2021 and you can watch a recording of the full talk here:
These five pieces are just a tiny selection of the huge wealth of works featured in our Art Unlocked talks so far. To uncover more fascinating stories and hidden gems, tune in to our live Art Unlocked talks on Wednesday afternoons. To keep updated on our upcoming talks, you can follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram and sign up for our weekly newsletter. To book your free ticket, head to our Eventbrite page. You can also watch recordings of previous Art Unlocked talks on our YouTube channel and find Curations for each of the previous talks on the Art UK website.
Jolif Guest, Collections Content and Liaison Officer at Art UK