Spring into our collections

For centuries, artists and designers have been inspired by the natural world, from wildlife and plants to the changing seasons. Spring's promise of new beginnings, from the delicate beauty of its blossom to the bold colours of its fresh blooms, is the most captivating of all. Its influence can be seen across the arts, from Renaissance craftsmen to botanical artists and designers of the Arts and Crafts movement.

Celebrate spring through some of its most evocative depictions in our collections.

  

Chelsea porcelain figures,'The Agreeable Lesson', after Boucher, c1765, at Upton House, Warwickshire

A Chelsea porcelain shepherd and shepherdess  

Depictions of shepherds and shepherdesses were extremely popular in the 18th century and this delightful porcelain figure is one of the most important examples. It's from the ceramic collection at Upton House in Warwickshire. But could there be more than meets the eye to this sweet, charming scene?

Spring flora

botanical illustration of daffoldils

Narcissus, the incomparable daffodil

This detailed watercolour of two varieties of narcissi was painted in 1753 by Georg Dionysius Ehret, one of the most influential botanical artists of all time. Ehret was initially a journeyman gardener which might explain his great affinity with plants. This example is from the collection at Dudmaston in Shropshire.

stained glass window

Spring through a window

This stained glass panel depicts a young maiden, surrounded by the flowers of Spring. It’s one of a series of small panels of the four seasons, designed by William Morris for the inglenook fireplace at Cragside in Northumberland. Morris sought to capture the spirit of medieval glass while retaining a focus on secular subjects.

Bluebell dress from the collection at Killerton

Bluebells for the belle of the ball

Bluebell-shaped beads, along with sparkling sequins and crystals, adorn a show-stopping cocktail dress from the collection at Killerton in Devon. The dress was made for Jean Appleyard, wife of the chairman of the motor company Appleyards and Jaguar. The lightweight beads would have made a pleasing sound as Jean moved.

Spring blossom

A Canton enamel barber’s bowl

A close shave

A barber’s bowl, like this example at Tatton Park in Cheshire, was once an essential shaving tool. Large quantities of these bowls were shipped from China to European markets in the 18th century. This example is decorated with peonies, butterflies, birds and prunus (plum) blossom, and exemplifies the use of rose-coloured enamel ('famille rose').

Lacquer cabinet at Osterley

Say it with flowers

This lacquer cabinet at Osterley Park, London, is elaborately decorated with flower and foliage motifs. Made in Japan in the late seventeenth century, the symbolism of the motifs would most likely have been lost on its Western purchasers. The doors have a delicate pattern of cherry blossom floating on water, a symbol in Japan of the evanescence of youth and beauty.

Blue and white vase

Winter turns to spring

Prunus (plum) blossom has been depicted in Chinese art for centuries. The five-petaled flowers – an auspicious number in China – emerge from bare branches, marking the transition from winter into spring. Blue and white vases, such as this example at Plas yn Rhiw in Gwynedd, are often painted with a background of ‘cracked ice’, symbolising winter’s end.

Depicting Hanami, Japan's cherry blossom celebration

This woodblock print, from the collection at Cragside in Northumberland, celebrates the appearance in Japan of sakura, or cherry blossom, and the custom of gathering with friends and family under flowering trees to celebrate spring’s fleeting spectacle.

This custom, known as Hanami (meaning ‘flower viewing’), dates back over a thousand years. Originating in the imperial court, it later becoming a cultural celebration enjoyed by everyone in Japan. During Hanami, it’s typical to share a drink or picnic with friends under the blossoming trees and take time to relax and enjoy the ephemeral beauty of the flowers.

This print was made by Andō Hiroshige, a woodblock master working during the Edo period (1615–1868) in Japan.

 

 

" …How many, many things they call to mind, these cherry-blossoms! "

Spring fauna

Spring insects

Detail of the richly embroidered dress

Embroidering nature

Butterflies adorn this richly embroidered dress worn by Elizabeth Craven, Lady Powis in an early 17th-century portrait at Powis Castle. The dress mixes motifs taken from the natural world, as butterflies flit amidst flowers and birds. Elizabethan textiles often included designs based upon images found in illustrated natural history books.

Meissen stand, painted with scattered insect

Porcelain beauties

Insects hover over delicate flowers on this Meissen dish. The flowers are modeled in relief, a three-dimensional celebration of a garden and accompanying insects. It dates from the mid-18th century, when the Rococo style took its inspiration from the natural world. It is one a group of objects salvaged from the 2015 fire at Clandon Park, Surrey.

pietra dura table

Spring into stone

Butterflies, dragonflies and moths are skilfully inlaid on this table from The Argory, County Armagh. It is an example of pietra dura, the technique of creating images with expensive raw materials, including marble, lapis lazuli, agate and jasper. Pietra dura has been prized and widely used for centuries, although it reached its peak during the Florentine Renaissance.

A watercolour entitled 'Butterflies and other insects at the Brazils', late 18th century / Scotney Castle NT 790586
A watercolour of butterflies and insects
A watercolour entitled 'Butterflies and other insects at the Brazils', late 18th century / Scotney Castle NT 790586