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My eyes are greeted with gloom on this winter day, the sky a leaden grey, but then suddenly a ray of sunlight bursts through the branches of a tree. It is 2.43pm and the sun is gathering intensely in its last hour before setting. The ray of light transforms the landscape around me, catching the last of the leaves on the tree, setting off their colours, deep bronze and even a green leaf with just a hint of copper. Blue breaks through the grey sky.

It’s been wonderful to delve into the archive of paintings themed around winter on Art UK to be reminded of just how much colour there is to be found in this season, and it has attuned me more to perceive the light as well as shade of winter. Although there is a fair share of Lowry-esque doom and gloom, paintings also powerfully capture the wide-ranging palette of the natural world during winter, from blazingly bright sunsets to midnight blue skies.

Winter

Winter 1970

Fred Uhlman (1901–1985)

Many paintings show how the sun can be richest, deepest, most haunting as it rises and sets in the winter months, blood-red filling the skies in stark contrast to the gloom. A bright orange circle hangs in the sky in Winter by Fred Uhlman (1901–1985), matching the colourful attire of the human figures. Such brightness is set into high relief by the black silhouettes of the trees and flecks of white on the tips of the branches.

Winter, Gregynog

Winter, Gregynog 1992

Brian E. Jones (b.1948)

Colour is subtle, but no less powerful, in the tantalising hint of sun pinkening the sky in the painting Winter, Gregynog by Brian E. Jones (b.1948).

Winter

Winter

Joseph Farquharson (1846–1935)

There are beguiling colours to be found in the natural world in paintings such as the marvellous Winter by Joseph Farquharson (1846–1935) in which golden sun filters through the trees, and a woman walks through the snow carrying chopped wood on her back.

It reminds me of the Robert Frost poem, Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening:

The woods are lovely, dark and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.

Winter

Winter 1874

Thomas Dingle (1818–after 1900)

Indeed woods and trees and their colours feature abundantly in winter paintings. The natural world offers colour in the darkest of seasons in Winter by Thomas Dingle (1818–after 1900) which compellingly captures the coppery leaves of a tree.

I was recently reminded how much colour there can be in the midst of darkness, upon seeing the wonderful artwork to the cover of Underland, the forthcoming book by nature writer Robert Macfarlane. The book is sure to be a 2019 highlight. In part, it explores the journeys through darkness that people have been taking for centuries in search of illumination – the artwork is glowing with colours, in a design by artist Stanley Donwood, showing tree branches in red, green, blue, yellow, orange.

Winter

Winter (triptych, centre panel)

George Henry (1858–1943)

Such abstract uses of colour amidst the darkness are also found in the Art UK archive, such as in Winter (triptych, centre panel) by George Henry (1858–1943) emphasising the reds of the sun and a woman seemingly sleeping in the snow.

Winter Wind

Winter Wind

Wendy Spooner

Winter Consolation

Winter Consolation 1992

Louise Ritchie (b.1967)

The excellent Winter Wind by Wendy Spooner uses an abstraction of black, white, and blue to capture the shapes of the season and the splendid abstraction of Winter Consolation by Louise Ritchie (b.1967) is indeed consoling.

Winter

Winter

Anthony Twentyman (1906–1988)

Winter

Winter c.1942

Robert Kirkland Jamieson (1881–1950)

I’ve noticed an abundance of the colour blue in wintry works which made me recall the book Bluets by Maggie Nelson, in part a lifelong exploration of the author’s obsession with blue. The colour blue is striking, for example, in the abstract painting Winter by Anthony Twentyman (1906–1988). Then there are powerful deep blue skies in Winter by Robert Kirkland Jamieson (1881–1950). 

Winter

Winter

Edna Ginesi (1902–2000)

There is the frozen turquoise/blue lake in Winter by Edna Ginesi (1902–2000).

Winter

Winter 2010

Alexander Rhynd Robb (b.1950)

Blue also appears in Winter by Alexander Rhynd Robb (b.1950) as a strip of sky or possibly river, a great painting in which the wintry landscape of white snow blurs into the manmade landscape of a house.

Winter

Winter 1963

Mary Kessell (1914–1977)

Alongside striking mixes of colour, there are some undoubtedly monochrome paintings, such as Winter by Mary Kessell (1914–1977).

Winter

Winter

Peter Wishart (1846–1932)

There are those that use a minimal colour palette, such as Road in the Village of Baldersbrønde (Winter Day) by Laurits Andersen Ring (1854–1933) and Winter by Peter Wishart (1846–1932), which has the haunting hint of a human being all but hidden amidst the landscape.

Winter Landscape

Winter Landscape 1955

William Gear (1915–1997)

London, Winter

London, Winter 1928

Christopher Richard Wynne Nevinson (1889–1946)

We see just how powerful white and black can be for artists. Winter Landscape by William Gear (1915–1997) excellently makes use of the colours with just a hint of a red strip. One of the most striking uses of the colour white can be seen in the birds fluttering throughout the painting London, Winter by Christopher Richard Wynne Nevinson (1889–1946) – eerie, haunting and powerful shapes and a reminder of just how alive nature can still be in winter.

All in all, these paintings are a brilliant reminder to both enjoy the darkness and to hold fast to the light and colour to be found in our supposedly bleakest of seasons.

Anita Sethi, journalist, writer and critic

Anita is a contributor to Seasons: An Anthology for the Changing Seasons.

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