With temperatures cooling and another school year beginning, it’s clear that fall is on its way again. Follow along as we explore how this season has inspired artists from different times and places. We will be enjoying art from Hudson River School's William Trost Richards and Thomas Cole, Italian artists Corrado Giaquinto, Japanese artists Tosa Mitsuoki, and French Impressionists Claude Monet.
Fall’s Majestic Beauty
A member of the Hudson River School, William Trost Richards is known for his landscapes and this glorious depiction of a forest in autumn is a remarkable example. Soft light illuminates golden leaves. Richards’ composition is clever: a tall tree divides the canvas into two halves, one with a river and the other with a path. Variation in the height of the trees draws your eye in deeper, while tree trunks frame the scene. Look closely and you’ll see tiny figures in the background.
An Old Master’s Depiction of Fall
Corrado Giaquinto was an Italian artist active during the 18th century. Working in the Baroque style, he depicted the season of fall in the form of a group of mythological figures enjoying the harvest. Bacchus, Roman god of wine, lounges on the right and sits astride a cornucopia bursting with fruit, symbolizing plenty. Around him, beautiful gods, goddesses, and cherubs pick fruit, drink wine, and celebrate. Giaquinto’s painting was originally part of a series of four paintings representing the four seasons. The artist’s Autumn and Winter are both in the collection of the National Gallery of Art, but the other two paintings have been lost.
A Sobering View of Fall
Thomas Cole, another Hudson River School painter, takes a more somber approach to fall. In this painting, he depicts a mountain pass that was the site of a deadly avalanche years before. The buildings and horse and rider are dwarfed by the massive mountains and snarled tree trunks surrounding the valley. Cole’s work symbolizes the passage of time and the insignificance of humanity compared to the power of nature. Though resplendent in orange and red, nature remains mysterious and dangerous.
Fall in Japanese Painting
Nature, including fall, is a recurring theme of Japanese painting. This screen by court painter Tosa Mitsuoki from the late 17th century reflects a contemporary aristocratic practice of seasonal poetry. Slips of paper, each inscribed with verses of poetry from the 12th and 13th centuries, hang from branches of a maple tree blazing with autumnal colors. The work has a melancholic air as all the people have departed, leaving beyond only poems.
Monet: The Light of Fall
French painter Claude Monet is famous for his series of haystack paintings, each of which depict fields of haystacks at different times of day and different points in the year. More than haystacks, Monet was interested in light and its effects. This painting captures the essence of an evening in fall. Soft golden light dims the colors of the landscape. Darkened by the sunset, Monet’s haystacks blend into the field behind. The artist masterfully evokes the passage of time in fall, each day a little shorter than the previous one.
From the Hudson River School to Impressionism, the fiery colors of fall have left their mark on art. No need to travel to New England to see the changing leaves -- just pay a visit to the National Gallery of Art or another museum. There may not be hot apple cider, but there is a lot to see and enjoy.