Autumn scenes and stories in our collections

Sally-Anne Huxtable, Head Curator, National Trust Sally-Anne Huxtable Head Curator, National Trust

Savour the colourful spectacle of autumn with this selection of autumnal works of art and objects in our care.

Artists and designers have long been inspired by the changing seasons of the natural world. Autumn, with its fiery colours, abundant harvest and seasonal traditions, has led to the creation of some eye-catching works of art in our collections.

The colours of nature

Beatrix Potter, Fly Agaric (Amanita muscaria), 1890 / Beatrix Potter Gallery

Woodland wonders

If you take a woodland wander at this time of year, chances are you’ll come across fungi clinging to old tree trunks or peeping through the leaf litter on the woodland floor. These brightly coloured toadstools are Fly Agaric, painted in watercolour by Beatrix Potter in 1890.

Painting Frederic Leighton wooded hills

Golden leaves

The warm golden colours of autumn leaves contrast with the cool blue of the sea in this atmospheric oil painting at Wallington, Northumberland by Sir Frederic Leighton, Lord Leighton PRA (1830–1896).

Drawing of an apple

Garden colour

The library at Anglesey Abbey, Cambridgeshire, includes the Pomologia Britannica by renowned botanist John Lindley. Published in three volumes in the 18th century, and full of colour-plate illustrations, it lists the fruit varieties cultivated in Britain at the time. This deep red variety illustrated here is a hoary morning apple.

Autumn is the time when fruits, vegetables, fungi and nuts are gathered from orchards, hedgerows and fields. These fruits of nature have frequently been celebrated in painting.

Video

Take a closer look at De Heem's still life



Curator Rupert Goulding uncovers the symbolism and hidden meanings of 'A Still Life of Flowers and Fruit', a Dutch masterpiece by Cornelis de Heem. There's more to this painting of flower and fruit than meets the eye.

Autumn creatures

From deer rutting to mass bird migrations, autumn has its fair share of natural spectacles and abundant wildlife to inspire artists.

Harvest celebrations

In Britain, autumn is seen as a time of abundance, when the bounty of the warm summer is harvested or foraged in preparation for the winter ahead. The season begins with the Equinox on or around 21 September and ends with the Winter Solstice on 21 December. Traditionally, one of the biggest festivals of autumn was Harvest Festival, which falls on the Sunday closest to the harvest full moon in early October and marks the end of the agricultural harvest that started on 1 August (also known as Lammas or Lughnasadh).

Oil painting showing two labourers relaxing

Labourers resting

Two farm labourers relax near a stile in this oil painting by George Morland (1763-1804), part of the collection at Calke Abbey, Derbyshire. The golden-coloured leaves on the trees and the hay rake in the foreground suggest they have been hard at work bringing in the harvest.

Tapestry depicting grapes being harvested

Fruit picking

Ham House in Surrey is home to a set of early 18th-century tapestries by Stephen de May, depicting rural scenes at different times of the year. The set is incomplete and would originally have consisted of 12, one for each month. October, pictured here, shows grapes being gathered.

Painting depicting people at a village fair

Cider making

The hustle and bustle of a village autumn fair is captured by Dutch artist Isack van Ostade (1621–1649) in this painting from Ascott Estate, Buckinghamshire. In the left foreground children gather around a cider-maker while chickens and dogs roam free among the crowds.

Harvest traditions

Agricultural customs were, until the early 20th century, central to the lives of most people who lived in the countryside, and the end of harvest in early autumn was the high point of the year. William Maw Egley’s vibrant 1860-62 painting ‘Hullo Largesse’ captures the East Anglian custom known locally as 'hallering largesse'. Just before the last corn was cut, the harvest workers would ritually holler or shout in thanks for a gift of coins, beer and beef or cake, from their employer.

The last strands of straw from the harvest were traditionally gathered and intricately woven into corn dollies. The dollies, symbolising the spirit of the corn, would then become part of the table decoration during feasts in the darker months and only discarded in the spring when new life returned to the fields.

Picture: '"Hullo Largesse", a Harvest Scene in Norfolk' by William Maw Egley (1826-1916), Scotney Castle, Kent.

In orchards throughout Britain, apples and pears are picked, fermented and turned into cider or perry. In Cornish orchards, such as those at Cotehele, it’s traditional to leave windfallen apples on the ground for the pixies. In West Cornwall at the festival of Allantide on 31 October, red Allan apples are sold, given as gifts and eaten to celebrate this feast day of St Allan.

18th-century apple press

The orchard harvest

The successful orchard harvest is still celebrated each autumn at many of the places we care for, such as Nunnington Hall, Barrington Court, Snowshill Manor, Dyrham Park and Hughenden. There are also plenty of objects in our collections that show the importance of the apple harvest. The Great Barn at Buckland Abbey is home to a magnificent 18th-century cider press, complete with stone trough to catch the juice from the freshly pulverised fruit.

Autumn personified

The harvesting and foraging of autumn grains, fruits, nuts, vegetables and fungi is important to many cultures and for millennia these bounties have held symbolic significance and meaning in religion, myth, folklore, and popular culture.

Bacchus depicted as a child holding a goblet

Bacchus

Bacchus, the Roman god of wine and grapes, is often associated with autumn in the arts, as can be seen in this 18th-century ceramic group from Saltram, Devon. The figures represent the four seasons with Bacchus (Autumn), Venus (Spring), Ceres (Summer) and, not pictured here, Vulcan (Winter).

Watercolour of Pomona, Roman goddess of fruit trees and orchards by Edward Burne-Jones’, circa 1884. Background of scrolling leaves and millefleurs designed by William Morris. Wightwick Manor/ NT 1287891

Pomona

In Roman mythology, the goddess Pomona personified fruitful abundance and was particularly associated with orchards, fruit trees and gardens. This 1884 watercolour design for a Morris & Co. tapestry depicts the figure of Pomona by Edward Burne-Jones against a background of foliage by William Morris.

Fortuna holding a Cornucopia

The Horn of Plenty

The Cornucopia, or Horn of Plenty, was an important symbol of great abundance in classical antiquity and was associated with the bounty of autumn. In this lovely intaglio made from lapis lazuli, Fortuna, the Roman goddess of luck and fortune, holds both a ship’s rudder – indicating her ability to direct someone’s fortune for good or ill – and a cornucopia – representing the bounty she can potentially bring to a person’s life.

From paintings and works on paper to tapestries and ceramics, these autumnal works of art are just a small selection from the more than one million objects in our care.