Crane was fascinated by the theme of spring, returning to it time after time from 1871, when he showed A Herald of Spring (Birmingham) at the Dudley Gallery, to 1901, when Sorrow and Spring was exhibited at the Royal Watercolour Society. He was particularly attracted to it in the 1870s, other examples of this period being The Advent of Spring (1873), Winter and Spring (c.1876) and The Fate of Persephone (1878), a sketch for which was sold in these Rooms on 14 June 1991, lot 10.
The Earth and Spring was exhibited in 1875 at the Dudley Gallery, the preferred venue for 'aesthetic' painters like Crane before the opening of the Grosvenor Gallery two years later. It was bought by the connoisseur J.P. Heseltine, who lived in a house built for him in Queen's Gate by Norman Shaw and was a friend of many artists, notably Charles Keene. As Crane wrote in his memoirs, 'Mr Heseltine (now one of the Trustees of the National Gallery) had an interesting collection of pictures, and even acquired one of mine from the Dudley, "The Earth and Spring", a watercolour (sic) for which I had also written a sonnet.'
The composition is a little reminiscent of Frederic Leighton's painting Mother and Child (Cherries) (Blackburn Art Gallery), exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1865 (see L. and R. Ormond, Lord Leighton, 1975, pl.107). Crane certainly knew Leighton by the mid 1870s, although his picture is a few years earlier than the mosaic frieze which he designed for the Arab Hall in Leighton's Holland Park house at the end of the decade. Earth and Spring also anticipates yet another of his own 'spring' pictures, La Primervera (1883), which is similar in format, the high sky-line, and the way in which spring flowers are dotted across the design (see J. Christian, op.cit., p.89, repr.). Both works betray Crane's association with the Etruscan School, notably Giovanni Costa, to whom Leighton had introduced him in Rome in 1872.