They say the only constant is change, and there may be no more reliable change than the advance of the seasons. A universal reminder of the passage of time and life’s cyclical nature, the four seasons have long been a favorite allegorical vessel for artists. Ancient Greek sculptures personify them, medieval European illustrations moralize virtuous and vicious behavior, and Edo-period Japanese prints render seasonal shifts in fashion and ritual. As with many formally and thematically conventional art historical subjects, artists have been tweaking, revising, and upending the theme for centuries.
From artists who imbue the subject’s broad allegorical meanings with deeply personal or pointedly political messages to others who update the tried-and-true formula through contemporary mediums like photography and video, the following 10 examples attest to the polyvalent power of the seasons in art history: ebullient as spring, irresistible as summer, colorful as fall, and cool as winter.