In the lead-up to Christmas we shoo away the natural darkness of winter with fairy lights and tinsel, brightly-coloured jumpers and the warm hues of televisual treats.
But while it can be lovely to create a barrier between yourself and the chilly outdoors, perhaps there’s also something to be said for fully embracing the shortest, darkest days of the year.
In the UK, we’re fortunate enough to experience the changing seasons. We can enjoy long summer days and short winter ones: within the span of one year we get to wear sundresses and shorts, but also bundle up in hats and scarves. Each season has its distinct feel, and the feel of winter is your cheeks rouged by the wind after a long, chilly walk; being snug under blankets while the wind howls outside; returning home as the sun's light fades, the sky comes down to meet the ground, and light and dark merge into one.
Just before we fully plunge into fairy light-strewn madness, let’s take a step back, make a hot chocolate and spend a moment appreciating winter’s gloom with some magnificently murky paintings.
Winter Landscape - Caspar David Friedrich
We’ve written about this painting before, in a roundup of some of the best winter paintings on Art UK. It’s magnificently atmospheric and magnificently bleak: the discarded crutches, the figure praying on the rock, the Gothic cathedral rising from the fog in the background. According to the National Gallery, where this painting lives, it 'represents the hope for salvation through the Christian faith', with the cathedral promising life after death.
The Louvre under Snow – Camille Pissarro
Pissarro is a master at making us feel chilly. Here, he’s merged the colour of the river, the sky and the trees into a flat grey-white. You can imagine hurrying along the bridge, scarf wrapped over your mouth, barely taking in the spectacle of the Louvre under snow in your rush to reach your destination.
Winter Evening – Ruskin Spear
In the collection of Ruskin Spear’s works on Art UK, there are many focussing on his immediate surroundings; depictions of the streets (and pubs) in Hammersmith, and their inhabitants. Winter Evening perfectly encapsulates the experience of sitting inside, gazing out at the last winter light leaves the sky; there are the pinpricks of artificial lights turning on, but in the natural light you can still make out the shapes of the buildings and trees. Sometimes winter can seem unendingly grey, but here the sky has retained some blue, in those last few moments before you draw the curtains and shut out the world, turning your attention inwards for the night.
Snow and Catterline in Winter – Joan Kathleen Harding Eardley
Having spent many years living in Glasgow and Catterline (a fishing village near Aberdeen), Joan Eardley knew a thing or two about chilly winters.
Eardley's home in Catterline was simple, with no electricity or running water, and while she lived there she made numerous paintings of the village, going out in all weathers and forming a real connection with the landscape. Here, she cuts through an otherwise austere scene with dashes of warm colour.
Dark Sky at Wigan – Theodore Major
Setting aside the snowy landscapes for a moment, Theodore Major’s piece is a different kind of wintery. The lone, small figure making their way along under a threatening sky, dwarfed by the spindly telegraph poles is reminiscent of the way winter can make you feel as if you’re the last person wandering on earth, before making a return to welcome civilisation.
All of Major’s works on Art UK are of similarly gloomy scenes; they’re not, perhaps, the greatest advertisement for the artist’s native Wigan, but they are fantastically atmospheric.
Snow in the North – Emmanuel Levy
Unlike Major, Levy’s works on Art UK are mostly figurative – the above painting is an exception in depicting the backs of the three women. They appear to be slowly making their way towards a community hall of some kind; perhaps inside they’ll be welcomed by more friends and a hot, sweet tea. That’s what I like to think, anyway.
Winter Landscape – W. H. Terry
This painting is mysterious in more ways than one. It is the only piece by W. H. Terry on Art UK, and an – admittedly brief – internet search doesn’t turn up much more information about the artist.
The artwork lives in Bury Art Museum, so we can speculate that Terry was another artist influenced by Manchester’s gloom. The trees blend into the sky and you can just make out the small shadows of birds, skimming along the ground – and what might be the footprints of those who’ve walked this way before.
Winter Scene – Colin Gard Allen
More abstract than the others, this piece nonetheless captures a winter night beautifully. Lit only by the moon, the dark trees somehow don’t appear too threatening, and the path that sweeps between them manages to look inviting, rather than off-putting. Wouldn’t you want to crunch along that crisp, clean snow under a full moon?
Molly Tresadern, Art UK Content Creator and Marketer