Henry Ryland had a successful and varied career as a painter, designer and watercolourist. He initially trained at the South Kensington School of Art before going to Paris and studying at the Académie Julian. He was influenced by the neo-Classicism of Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema (1836-1912), the aestheticism of Albert Moore (1841-1893), and by the Pre-Raphaelites. He exhibited frequently at the Royal Academy between 1890 and 1903, and the Royal Institute of Painters in Watercolour. In the 1880s and 1890s, Ryland executed designs for other media, including stained glass, and also for advertisements, notably for Pears soap. However, he also established a reputation as one of the foremost neo-classical painters of the period working in watercolour. His work was characterised by a high degree of finish and primarily consisted of single figures within simple classical settings, as in the present suite of watercolours.
The allegory of the four seasons has been a popular subject with artists since the Renaissance, and had a revival in popularity amongst the Pre-Raphaelites. In 1869 William Morris published The Lapse of the Year, a poem on the theme, which Edward Burne-Jones illustrated in The Masque of the Four Seasons (1875-1877, Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery). Walter Crane also explored the subject in 1885, in a large scale work in which the four allegorical figures interact with each other, showing the progression of the year between them. Here, Ryland takes a more classical, and less romantic interpretation with his four individual panels. Each girl is similarly dressed in classical robes, in front of an elaborate plaster wall, but holds an attribute of the season they depict, such as blossom or a basket of apples. In laying them out in this way, Ryland takes a subject with a very Pre-Raphaelite sensibility, and presents it in an Aesthetic manner.