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November 6, 2023

Autumnal Art at UMMA!

By Elena Mills

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Student Blog

Winter is coming to Ann Arbor! Every day, fewer trees have their colorful foliage, and as I walk around campus I am struck by their absence. My autumn playlist seems less and less appropriate as the weather gets colder, and I am forced to put on an increasing number of layers to leave the house.

If you’re also missing the foliage, the UMMA collection is the perfect place to revisit the autumnal aesthetic. Here are ten autumn artworks in the UMMA collection from around the world to hang on to the last bit of fall.

White Mountains in September, North Conway, New Hampshire – Sylvester Phelps Hodgdon
This painting depicts a cold autumnal scene in North Eastern New Hampshire. Pictured are the White Mountains, which are now a popular tourist attraction, but at the time of painting were famous for the Willey Family tragedy in which nine people lost their lives in an avalanche caused by mudslides. In this scene, Hodgon sets up the looming snowy mountains over the orange-russet field to capture a transition between seasons – winter on the horizon, but still autumn for the moment.

City in Autumn – Donald James Wynn
This painting depicts a cityscape where the leaves are beginning to change. Wynn uses an impressionistic technique to play with light and color, especially on the trees. In the greener tree, you can see the leaves on the left side are beginning to change faster than the right. This in particular reminds me of fall in Ann Arbor, in which the leaves seem to change color from unconventional starting points, like closer to the trunk and moving out, or from the top down.
Red Trees, Blue Mountains – Chang Ku-nien
This artwork was painted about a year after the artist moved from Taiwan to Flint, Michigan. Originally from China, Chang Ku-nein both preserves and transforms classic Chinese paintings. As such, upon moving to Michigan, he continued to seek out scenic locations to depict in his paintings. The contrast of the vibrant red leaves with the foggy, blue, and green scene around them is both picturesque and reminiscent of a Michigan autumn.

Oak Leaf – Daniel Farber
I think that this painting is particularly striking. The colors are so vibrant and it is so highly textured. I think this piece would be the first artwork to grab my eye across any room. An element that adds interest to this piece is that up close it looks like the underside of a leaf, but from afar it could certainly be mistaken for a tree changing color. From a distance, the mid-rib of the leaf looks like a thin tree trunk, and the colors could be the foliage turning all around it. Either way, it is the perfect autumnal artwork.
Black crested haori with faux-resist dyed designs – Minagawa Gekka
This artwork is fascinating because it is also a wearable garment! Called a Haori, this garment is a short jacket for a kimono. This one in particular depicts chrysanthemum flowers, which are frequently regarded as late summer and autumnal flowers. Right now, there are mums all around campus, some of the last flowers still hanging in through the cold weather. The vibrant reds, oranges, and blues throughout this piece contrast fantastically alongside the rich black fabric, and almost feel three-dimensional.

Sunset – George Inness
Sunset is a truly gorgeous piece to see in person (which you can do! It’s currently on display in the Thomas H. and Polly W. Bredt Gallery.) The highly saturated reds and oranges paired with the deep brown foreground create a sense of depth that pulls viewers in. The colors, as well as the tonalist style, create a work that is perhaps less representational in detail, but certainly evokes a sense of emotion in the viewer. I am particularly drawn to the textural work in the leaves, as well as the rich shading in the log in the foreground.

Landscape in Autumn – Ralph Albert Blakelock
Landscape in Autumn is a piece that has a soft blended appearance from afar, but up close the painting itself is somewhat cracked and highly textured. The trees and clouds in particular lend themselves to this appearance, in addition to being some of the most compelling aspects of the piece. The ochre and olive shades of the trees are placed in front of the vibrant blue sky creating a sense of contrast and seasonally appropriate autumn warmth.

Autumn– Leon A. Makielski
Landscape in Autumn is a piece that has a soft blended appearance from afar, but up close the painting itself is somewhat cracked and highly textured. The trees and clouds in particular lend themselves to this appearance, in addition to being some of the most compelling aspects of the piece. The ochre and olive shades of the trees are placed in front of the vibrant blue sky creating a sense of contrast and seasonally appropriate autumn warmth.

Autumnal Scene – Leon A. Makielski
I chose to include Autumnal Scene because it is also by Makielski, but is quite stylistically different. This artwork incorporates less vibrant colors, and is more representational, contrasting more abstract aspects of  Autumn. I think it’s interesting to compare the difference in intensity of colors between these two pieces. In Autumn the saturation of color is the most dynamic aspect of the piece, and it relies heavily on contrast. Autumnal Scene also uses contrast (with the yellow-green grass against the periwinkle mountains, as well as the deep orange against the pale sky) but in a way that is more cohesive in a central color scheme. I really enjoy looking at the difference between these two pieces, and generally comparing two works by the same artist.

Autumn Color and Log Cabin – Pierre Daura
Last but certainly not least is Daura’s Autumn Color and Log Cabin. There is a certain softness or smoothness to this painting that I find particularly delightful. It is textured and the brushstrokes are visible, but the overall vibe of the work is very flowing and organic. The detailed work of the fence posts, paneling on the buildings, and animals in the far field fit in remarkably well with the semi-representational style of artwork. Overall this painting has a lot of character and calls viewers in to interact. I like to think of it as charming.

If any of these artworks are calling your name, I invite you to swing by UMMA to reminisce on the autumnal feelings as our weather moves swiftly toward winter.

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