A collection of Spring-inspired objects from our collection

4 minute read

With the days growing longer and the snowdrops sitting firmly above ground here in Oxford, it feels like Spring is just around the corner.

While we still have a little while to go before the official start of the season (roll on, 20th March), we’re celebrating the occasion by highlighting some of our favourite blossoms, blooms and Spring scenes from the collection. This bountiful season has inspired artists from all corners of the world for many, many centuries.

So, scroll on through, enjoy the stories behind these bright and beautiful works, and take solace in the fact that the days are beginning to get even longer.

Apple Blossom at Dennemont

by Charles Conder, 1893

A landscape painting of tree-lined a pathway in spring

This idyllic scene was painted by English-born painter Charles Conder (1868 - 1908). Conder emigrated to Australia when he was 16, where he would eventually become a pivotal part of the Heidelberg School - an australian art movement with marked similarities to French Impressionism.

The group was named after a rural area outside of Melbourne, where the artists gathered to live and paint at an informal artist’s camp called the Mount Eagle Homestead. Members of the Heidelberg movement often painted ‘en plein air’, or out in nature, with an emphasis on light, colour and the use of experimental brush strokes.

Conder painted this picture after he had left Australia for Europe, spending the remainder of his life between France and England. When he arrived in Paris in 1890, he was particularly interested in Monet and Japanese art. He rented a small house in the countryside and often went on painting excursions to nearby towns, including Dennemont, where this was painted. 

Dish with Flower Sprays

Turkey, Iznik 1530–1550

White dish with floral spray design in blue, violet and green from Iznik, Turkey, 1530-1550

This striking floral plate dates back to the Ottoman Empire, and was likely made in Iznik, Turkey c. 1530–1550.

The legacy of the Islamic potters to the world is unique, as they were amongst the first to see the potential of white tin glaze as a canvas for ceramic decoration. The designs that adorned these ceramics were often stunning geometric patterns featuring natural motifs, like this one.

Floral motifs became a hallmark of classical Ottoman art and architectural decoration between the 1500s and 1600s, due to the extensive use and appreciation of flowers in Turkey and neighbouring countries. Blooms like carnations, tulips and hyacinths, to name some of the most popular, were planted in their thousands in both public and private gardens and often adorned people's headgears and attires.

A Study, in March

by John William Inchbold​​​​​​, 1855

A richly coloured spring scene in a wooded area featuring foliage in the foreground, a sheep and two lambs in the mid ground and blue sky with clouds in the background.

This Spring scene was painted by Pre-Raphaelite artist John William Inchbold (1830–1888). It is thought to have been exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1855, and inspired by the words of William Wordsworth in ‘Excursion’...

‘The primrose and harebells in the foreground and the ewe and two lambs on the ridge, 
herald the arrival of spring, 
though the trees are still bare,
their branches picked out in sharp detail against the blue sky’

You will be able to see works by Inchbold, and many others by artists of this movement, in our upcoming exhibition ‘The Pre-Raphaelites: Drawings and Watercolours’. 

View of Cherry Blossom-Viewing at Gotenyama

by Utagawa Hiroshige, 1843–47

A woodblock print of a landscape featuring a group celebrating beneath cherry blossoms by the sea

The Japanese tradition of viewing the cherry blossoms in spring is so popular that it has its own name – hanami, or flower viewing.

From the end of March, cherry trees blossom all across Japan and many people plan to visit their favorite hanami sites at *just* the right moment. In fact, there is even a cherry blossom forecast announced by the Japanese Weather Bureau each year. 

The practice is centuries old, and was once limited to the elite of Japanese society. Today people gather in great numbers, hosting picnics and parties under the cherry trees to celebrate the start of Spring.

This woodblock print by Japanese artist Utagawa Hiroshige shows just that – joyous celebrations beneath the blossoms.

Three Studies of Rosebuds

by May Morris, 1877–1905

Three studies of rosebuds drawn in graphite and painted with yellow, green and pink watercolours

These delicate explorations of rosebuds were drawn and painted by May Morris (1862–1938), an influential embroiderer and designer of the Arts & Crafts movement in mid-19th-century Britain.

After studying at the South Kensington School of Design, Morris took over the embroidery section of her father’s company, Morris & Co, in 1885. From this point, almost all new designs produced by the company were by May and her father’s assistant John Henry Dearl. She often took inspiration directly from nature, producing many botanical sketches and patterns.

In 1907, Morris also founded the Women’s Guild of Arts – a response to the gender-exclusive Art Workers Guild, and an attempt to raise the status and bargaining power of independent female artists.