How Do Artists Portray The Weather In Their Art?

It makes sense that something that affects us every day - the weather - would find its way into art both as a subject and as the backdrop in works created by artists over the years. But how do artists depict something fleeting - such as the wind blowing, the sun shining, snowflakes falling - how do they capture this moment and portray the weather in their art? Artsology will show you a number of pieces, both paintings and photography, created by notable artists who make the weather an important part of their art.

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Below is JMW Turner's painting Snow Storm - Steam-Boat off a Harbour's Mouth. At first glance, one might think this is an abstract expressionist piece, but in fact this painting was made in 1842, approximately 100 years before the abstract expressionist painters came to the forefront. The way Turner has handled the paint in swirling motions easily gives the feeling that this boat is in the center of an intense storm. An interesting side note: it has been suggested that Turner was inspired for this painting while lashed to the mast of a ship during an actual storm at sea. This is not a proven fact, it may just be a tall tale to boost the heroic nature of this painting.

JMW Turner painting of a snow storm at sea

Here we have two more examples of dramatic scenes portraying elements of nature and the weather. At left is a wood block print of The Great Wave by Japanese artist Katsushika Hokusai, who made this image approximately 20 years before Turner's sea storm painting, in the early 1820's. At right is American artist Charles Burchfield's The East Wind from 1918. Here we see a house that is being pummeled by rain in the west and the wind from the east.

Japanese artist Hokusai Wave

American Painter Charles Burchfield The East Wind 1918

How about some snow? We have a pair of photographs by Alfred Stieglitz, an American photographer who lived from 1864 - 1946. At left is a winter scene on Fifth Avenue in New York, taken in 1892. At right is a picture titled Two Towers, New York from 1913. These two pictures are examples of Stieglitz's street photography, where he would walk the street looking for arresting images to capture with his camera. We think they're an interesting pair in that the image on the left captures winter's brutality, whereas the picture on the right seems like a peaceful winter day with snow balancing on small branches.

Alfred Stieglitz photograph of snow on Fifth Avenue in NYC, 1892

Photograph of snow in NYC by Alfred Stieglitz

Stieglitz was using his camera to "portray" winter as both harsh and peaceful, but if one takes away the camera, let's see how another artist has portrayed snow using his paintbrush. Below is American artist Andrew Wyeth, with his First Snow, Study for Groundhog Day, from 1959. In addition to the obvious flurries, Wyeth has also managed to capture the haze of blowing and drifting snow. This blowing snow is seemingly intense enough to have obliterated the view of the background and/or the horizon of this image on the right side. Beyond the low-lying dark structure to the right of the house, the snow simply dissipates into nothingness.

Andrew Wyeth, First Snow, Study for Groundhog Day

Okay, after all of these storms and snowy winters, maybe we need to end with some warmth and sunshine. At left is a watercolor painting of Sunrise by American artist Georgia O'Keefe, painted in 1916. At right is Reaper With Wheat Field and Sun from 1889, by Van Gogh. The sun-filled sky and the yellow glow upon the wheat field is so bright and intense that it's almost hard to see the reaper (he's on the left). There's not a cloud in this sky, which is bursting with the light of the sun.

Georgia O'Keeffe watercolor painting titled Sunrise

Reaper With Wheat Field and Sun by Vincent Van Gogh

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