Winter marks an important transition in Peter Blume's ouevre signifying his shift from historical and socially current subject matter to the more obtuse natural world. Although he briefly experimented with landscapes in the late 1930s with works such as Landscape with Poppies (1939, The Museum of Modern Art, New York), it wasn't until the early 1960s, that "recurring natural cycles and mythic truths more and more superseded historical insights or contemporary commentary as the dominant sources of thematic inspiration in his work." (F.A. Trapp, Peter Blume, New York, 1987, p. 117) The first in a series of three allegorical paintings, Winter is a conflation of various images from Blume's personal experiences that manifests recurrent themes in a new visual mode. The work embodies Blume's traditional leitmotivs of destruction versus survival and inanimate versus animate while introducing a new cyclical motif that is not found in his previous work.
The amalgamation of disparate elements to create a surreal effect is a key characteristic of Blume's work. The reduction of pictorial elements in Winter is a divergence that indicates a stylistic sophistication not seen in previous pictures. Blume masterfully manipulates four elements: rocks, snow, trees and birds to create a psychologically arresting picture. Blume always used familiar imagery from his personal experience both current and past: "for the reassurance that it afforded him." (Peter Blume, p. 69) The broken tree is based on one in the artist's Sherman, Connecticut yard that he remembered "a tree that had snapped near the base and was torn open but still attached at the base. And that impressed me." (Peter Blume, p. 117) The splintered trunk represents death and destruction and replaces the architectural ruins in earlier works. The birds, representing animate nature and replacing the human presence are also based on his life in Sherman. The rock, however, is a memory from a past trip to the Mediterranean, "The original cliff was down in Sicily, I think--if it wasn't south of Naples...this magnificent cliff that came right up out of the sea was the beginning of Winter." (as quoted in Peter Blume, p. 119) The rocks replace the architectural elements in Blume's earlier works and thus represent impervious inanimate objects. And finally, the snowy landscape is a vestige of previous compositions that began to appear in Blume's work when he was living in Northampton, Massachusetts, in the mid-1920s and is integral to Winter, New Hampshire (1927, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Massachusetts), Pig's Feet in Vinegar (1927, Private collection) and Home for Christmas (1926, Columbus Museum of Art, Columbus, Ohio). Snow was an important formal element for Blume as it "provided a continuity of tone and pattern, serving as an unobtrusive editing device that allowed him to suppress unwanted elements while selectively featuring others." (Peter Blume, p. 31)
Blume's mastery of color, form and pictoral space is at its zenith in Winter. He places the viewer slightly below the scene, this combines with the closely cropped image to create a strikingly dramatic composition, in which all of the action is compressed to the foreground. Light and shadow are adeptly manipulated to emphasize the rough form and texture of the rock and splintered tree. The soft undulating snow juxtaposed with the sharp, crisp lines of the rock outcroppings creates a sense of rhythm and leads the viewer back endlessly into the work invoking lonely abandon and eerie vastness while concentrating the action in the foreground and emphasizing form and color. The snow also unifies the work as its soft curves are echoed in the birds' torsos and young sapling establishing a formal dialogue with the sharp lines of the broken tree, its branches and the rocks. The jagged, highly developed contours and weighty form of the rock seems to be propelling upward through the snow giving the sense that much lies beneath the surface contributing to the surreal nature of the work. The space expands not only straight back, but also out to the sides of the picture as the large rock outcropping in the far left and the smaller outcropping in the far right echo the forms of the rock and broken trunk in the foreground, capturing the viewer's eye and drawing it back. The bright Mannerist colors of the birds are a deliberate contrast to the white, brown and grays that fill the rest of the composition. The absence of architectural and human components in Winter imbues the work with a silence that is simultaneously poetic and bizarre. The birds, especially those in flight, introduce life and action.
The juxtaposition of inanimate nature and destruction with new life is common in Blume's work and prominent in Winter. At first glance Winter appears to portray a peaceful scene, but upon further observation, the theme of survival manifests itself in a new way. The backdrop of barren harsh landscape underscores the seasonal lack of sustenance. Despite the desolate conditions, life continues in the form of the moss, which lines the large rock, the bright colorful birds that fill the fallen tree's branches and the sapling emerging from the snow. These elements connote the triumph of life over destruction and death. Blume changed the work between the time that it was photographed as the frontispiece for The Currier Gallery of Art 1964 retrospective and the actual exhibition. His alterations included adding more birds and making their feathers more vivid. He also made the sapling in the foreground larger and lusher. This modification of the picture shows the aspects that Blume was trying to highlight, predominantly the vigor of life. The seasonal subject, recurrence of the form of the undulating snow and rock forms and the new sapling all point to nature's ability for repetition and regeneration.
Winter introduced a new cyclical motif in Blume's work that he continued to explore throughout his career, especially in the other two works of the series, Summer (1966, Private collection) and Autumn (1984, Private collection). Always an individual, "At a time when the image was fast disappearing from the various manifestations of abstract painting, Blume not only retained it but gave it an increasingly important function." (Peter Blume, p. 199)