Skip to Main Content

The flowers are blooming, the weather is warming . . . spring is upon us!

To celebrate the start of the season, we’ve picked out artworks of flourishing flowers, green gardens, lush landscapes, and beautiful bonnets. Many are on view for you to explore; others are hidden gems from our collection that you may not have seen before. Discover how spring has inspired artists, and how it may inspire you.

Art in Bloom

Flowers like lilies and tulips have served as the subject of works by countless artists, from 17th-century Dutch still life painter Balthasar van der Ast to the American abstract artist Alma Thomas. Van der Ast’s still life of flowers arranged in a wicker basket is one of many imagined bouquets popular among the of the artists of his time. They created impossible works: the flowers depicted together bloomed in different seasons.

A basket overflowing with flowers sits on a table alongside fruit, berries, and seashells in this horizontal still life painting. The wide, low straw-colored basket has a woven base and more open, rib-like sides. The bouquet is made up of white and pink roses, a sky-blue iris and another with pale yellow and lavender-purple leaves. There are also a carnation striped with red and white, flame-orange poppies, and at least three tulips, including one that is scarlet red, a white tulip veined with red, and one with red petals streaked with yellow. Other flowers and dark green stems and leaves fill out the arrangement. The basket sits on a slate-gray tabletop that extends off both sides of the painting. Four shells sit to our left of the basket. These include a woodcock murex shell with a spiraling head with spikes and a long, spiny tail; an elongated, smooth conch shell with an ivory-white and brown calico surface; and light blue snail shell. Finally, closest to us, the largest, spiraling triton shell is occupied by a hermit crab. A sprig of glowing red berries sits at the front center of the composition. To our right, a cluster of fruit includes purple and green grapes on the vines, red cherries, a red plum, and two pieces of yellow and blush-pink fruit. The scene is lit from our left against a darkened background, so a dragonfly in the upper right corner is nearly lost in shadow. The artist signed the painting in the lower left corner, “B.vander.ast.”

Balthasar van der Ast, Basket of Flowers, c. 1622, oil on panel, Collection of Mrs. Paul Mellon, 1992.51.2

Emil Nolde, Flower Garden, Kneeling Woman with Hat, 1908, oil on canvas, Collection of Arnold and Joan Saltzman, 2020.112.4

This nearly square, abstract painting is filled with circles within circles, like nested rings, each of a single bright color against the ivory white of the canvas. Each ring is made up of a series of short, rectangular dashes, and some bands are narrower while others are a bit wider. The majority of the rings are crimson and brick red, and they are interspersed with bands of lapis blue, army green, and pale pink. One of two pumpkin-orange bands is the smallest, innermost ring at the center. There is one aqua-blue colored ring just inside a pale, shell-white ring, which is the first to get cropped by the edges of the canvas. A few red, green, and blue rings beyond the white band are only seen at the corners of the canvas.

Alma Thomas, Pansies in Washington, 1969, acrylic on canvas, Corcoran Collection (Gift of Vincent Melzac), 2015.19.144

Florence V. Cannon, Easter Lily, 1945, color screenprint on laid paper, Reba and Dave Williams Collection, Gift of Reba and Dave Williams, 2008.115.1159

Lou Stovall, Breathing Hope, 1996, color screenprint on wove paper, Gift of Lou, Di Bagley and Will Stovall, 2007.54.1

Spring Landscapes

French post-impressionist painter Pierre Bonnard spent the final years of his life in a small town on the French Riviera. The green hills were the subject of hundreds of Bonnard’s paintings, and he used a vibrant palette of greens, blues, and yellows to illustrate the time of year. But color isn’t required to show the season—Japanese printmaker Shikō Munakata captured a blossoming valley of trees with just the black ink of a woodcut.

Pierre Bonnard, A Spring Landscape, c. 1935, oil on canvas, Ailsa Mellon Bruce Collection, 1970.17.10

Maurice de Vlaminck, Chestnut Trees in Bloom, c. 1905/1906, oil on canvas, Collection of Mr. and Mrs. Paul Mellon, 2014.18.60

Dora Louise Murdoch, Parmelee Estate in Bloom, c. 1920, watercolor on wove paper, Corcoran Collection (Bequest of James Parmelee), 2015.19.511

Shikō Munakata, Spring in Full Bloom, woodcut, Rosenwald Collection, 1964.8.1327, view more prints by Japanese artists

Verdant green fields roll in undulating waves back alongside a road in this horizontal landscape painting. The fields take up the left and center of the composition and are painted with thick, curling strokes of emerald, pea, and celery green, and corn yellow to suggest grasses and plants. The pale green road runs up along the right edge of the painting, and is layered with strokes and daubs in butter yellow, spring green, and faint blue. The fields and road meet the horizon line about halfway up the canvas, where an aquamarine-blue sky swirling with white and periwinkle-blue clouds fills the top half of the painting.

Vincent van Gogh, Green Wheat Fields, Auvers, 1890, oil on canvas, Collection of Mr. and Mrs. Paul Mellon, 2013.122.1

George Morrison, Untitled, 1961, oil on canvas, Gift of Funds from David M. Rubenstein, 2022.123.1

Doris Lee, Blossom Time, 1959, color lithograph, Reba and Dave Williams Collection, Gift of Reba and Dave Williams, 2008.115.3091

Spring Fashion

Nothing quite says spring like a fancy hat. According to the subjects of these works, ideally it should be broad, decorated with a ribbon and some flowers. And probably accompanied by a fancy coat, frilly dress, or spiffy suit. Florence Earl’s detailed watercolor drawing of a purple bonnet is one of many hats recorded for the Index of American Design. This collection of over 18,000 watercolor paintings documents works of folk, decorative, and industrial art created throughout the United States.

We look slightly down into a lime-green and white rowboat carrying a woman holding a baby and a man in this nearly square painting. The man wears midnight-blue shoes, pants, jacket, and soft, floppy cap. He sits with his back to us, bending forward to row the boat, which is cropped by the bottom edge of the canvas. The left side of his ruddy face is visible over his left shoulder. The woman and baby both have pale skin. The woman and baby sit across from the man, facing us to our left in the bow. The woman’s long-sleeved, sky-blue dress is crosshatched with pink lines. The baby leans back in the woman’s arms, and wears a pink dress, blue socks, and brown shoes. The wide-brimmed hats on both the woman and baby are painted pale celery green. They gaze toward or just past the man. The corner of the boat’s sail, also painted pale green, is pulled taunt by the wind to our left. Azure-blue water surrounds the boat up to the high horizon line, which brushes the top edge of the painting. The shoreline in the distance is lined with trees and dotted with white houses with red roofs.

Mary Cassatt, The Boating Party, 1893/1894, oil on canvas, Chester Dale Collection, 1963.10.94

Florence Earl, Hat, 1935/1942, watercolor, graphite, and colored pencil on paperboard, Index of American Design, 1943.8.9563

Henri Matisse, The Plumed Hat, 1919, oil on canvas, Chester Dale Collection, 1963.10.168

French 20th Century, Woman with Umbrella in Garden, c.1910, Autochrome, Gift of Charles Isaacs and Carol Nigro, 2006.169.9

Nancy Andrews, The Digging Dykes of Decatur, 1993, gelatin silver print, Corcoran Collection (Gift of the artist), 2015.19.4573

Gordon Parks, Marva Louis, Chicago, 1941, gelatin silver print, Corcoran Collection (The Gordon Parks Collection), 2016.117.103

Three young Black girls lie on the grass in this closely cropped, sepia-toned, circular photograph so their faces roughly line up near the center. At the bottom of the composition, one girl lies on her back and looks up into the sky. Her head, torso, and right arm are visible. She wears a floral-patterned dress and holds her right hand up to the top of her head. The second girl reclines on her right side behind the first, so she is angled to our left. She props her head in her right hand and looks steadily at us. Her face hovers at the center of the composition. She wears a white t-shirt and a garland encircles her head. The third girl, at the top of the composition, seems to prop her body up on her left elbow. She wears a floral dress and looks down and to our right. Grass and paving rocks fill the space behind her.

Carrie Mae Weems, May Flowers, 2002, printed 2013, chromogenic print, Alfred H. Moses and Fern M. Schad Fund, 2014.3.1

Louise Dahl-Wolfe, Joan Fontaine, 1938, gelatin silver print, Alfred H. Moses and Fern M. Schad Fund, 2018.97.2

Interpretations of Spring

In allegories, the subject of a work symbolizes something broader—in these works, a season. The French marble sculpture A Garden Allegory shows a woman with an angelic little cupid. She represents Herse, the Goddess of dew, and the cupid stands in for another mythological figure: Zephyr or Zephyrus, the God of spring. Ruth Asawa’s print Spring takes a more abstract approach—a splash of green calls to mind the season.

Giacomo Quarenghi, An Ornate Ceiling with an Allegory of Spring, 1790/1815, pen and black ink with watercolor over graphite on faintly blued-green laid paper, Ailsa Mellon Bruce Fund, 1993.13.2, on view in Looking Up: Studies for Ceilings, 1550–1800

Ruth Asawa, Spring, 1965, lithograph (stone) in two greens and green-brown on white Arches paper, Gift of Dorothy J. and Benjamin B. Smith, 1983.18.186

Benoît Massou, Anselme Flamen, and Nicolas Rebillé, A Garden Allegory: The Dew and Zephyr Cultivating Flowers, 1683/1732, marble, Samuel H. Kress Collection, 1952.5.106

Elie Abrahami, Spring, 1993, watercolor on heavy wove paper, Gift of George and Janet Jaffin, 1994.8.1

Discover more hidden treasures

March 17, 2023