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A Winter Scene with Many Figures Skating on a Frozen River
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This Winter Landscape with Skaters is one of the finest of Avercamp’s works left in private hands.  Painted at the dawn of the Dutch Golden Age, probably between 1610 and 1615, it shows the delights of a frozen winter’s day enjoyed together by all ages and all sorts: we see them skating; sledging, ice-yachting, fishing and standing about gossiping in their finery, or muffled against the icy chill.  Avercamp was the first painter to record serially the delights and pleasures of a winter’s day, and he did so in virtually every one of his paintings.  It is a matter of record that winters in the 16th and 17th Century were harsher than they are today, and the rivers and lakes of the Eastern Netherlands where Avercamp lived were frozen hard for several weeks or longer in most years (see below).  Thus the subject matter on which Avercamp based his career was a far from fleeting phenomenon.\n\nThis picture is a compelling visual record of extreme cold: the frozen grey overcast sky ,and the ice which reflects it, admit no warming sunlight or relenting blue sky, and everything in the painting apart from the people is frozen hard as stone.  Avercamp uses a variant of the Flemish tradition of aerial perspective by showing the distant figures, treees and houses through the frozen mist caused by the ice cold air: the effect is progressive, so that the buildings, windmill and trees on the horizon are barely visible, as if in a mirage.  Avercamp resolves this apparent contradiction of the physical onslaught of a brutally cold winter's day with the delights enjoyed by the local population in the face of such a potentially severe trial of nature by introducing warm reddish tones: brick, clothing, flags; which provide a visual counterpart to the remorselessly cold grey of the sky and the ice, without diluting their intensity.\n\nHendrick Avercamp, the first and one of the greatest painters of winter landscapes, worked in relative isolation in the town of Kampen, then a Hanseatic port of dwindling importance on the eastern shores of the Zuider Zee.  Avercamp's isolation was not merely geographic.  His mother's will, made shortly before her death in 1633, expresses particular concern for her eldest son Hendrick, who lived with her and was unmarried, because he was stom en miserabel (mute and miserable).  Contemporary sources from as early as 1613 describe him as Stomme, and his muteness was probably caused by deafness.  Avercamp's winter landscapes, therefore, record a world observed but not heard, populated with people whom he could see, but with whom communication would have been limited.  This may perhaps explain why the figures in his paintings, even when placed in the foreground, are always, except in some very late pictures, placed at a certain physical distance from the viewer, and although they are seen talking to one another, they are rarely to be caught looking out of the picture plane.  They are, nonetheless, acutely observed, with affection or amusement, or both.  In fact Avercamp adapted a traditional manner of landscape depiction in which the viewpoint is above, and removed from, the foreground figures, which give them a natural detachment from the viewer, and the “Frozen Silence” to quote the title of an exhibition devoted to winter landscapes (in which this picture was included; see below), probably has more to do with the dampening effect of extreme cold on sound than with the painter’s own auditory isolation.\n\nIn the so-called Little Ice-Age of the 16th to the mid-19th Century average winter temperatures in Northern Europe were substantially lower than they are today, or than they had been in the Middle Ages.  After 1550 Europe endured colder decades than at any period since the last Great Ice Age 10,000 years earlier.  The first severe winter was that of 1565, when bonfires were lit on the River Schelde at Antwerp and on the Thames in London.  In the Netherlands the coldest winters were in the years around 1600, (and later on in the 1660s ands 70s) and those of 1607-8 and 1620-21 were particularly severe, but it seems likely that two-thirds or more of winters at this time had heavy snowfall and long periods of unbroken frost, often between five and ten weeks.  It seems likely that these frequent severe winters, and no doubt the way that the Dutch adapted to them, made them a popular subject for painting.  For more information on the subject of the Little Ice Age, see A. van Suchtelen under Literature, pp. 12-15, and J.F.W. Negendonck, C. Brüchmann, U. Kienel, "Die "Kleine Eiszeit" und Ihre Abbildung im Klimaarchiv Binnensee", in Die "Kleine Eiszeit", exhibition catalogue, Berlin 2001, pp. 55-62).\n\nAlthough it is tempting to associate Avercamp's winter landscapes with the geography of his native Kampen, whose city walls he included in a number of his winter landscapes, the costumes in many of his pictures, including the present one, are characteristic of the Waterland region north of Amsterdam, and the flags seen in the distance bear the colours of the Province of Zeeland, as Ariane van Suchtelen observed (see Literature).\nSince no painting by Avercamp is dated between 1609 and 1620, it is not a simple matter to date his works accurately.  The pictures from 1608 and 1609 are much closer in composition to the earlier Flemish landscape tradition, with a much higher horizon line.   By 1620 Avercamp's compositions had ceased to rely on coulisses such as the trees and house to the right of the present picture, and the horizon line is lower, with a lower viewpoint than here.  A number of undated early works share the characteristics of the 1608 and 1609 pictures, with a high viewpoint as well as a high horizon line, and with small, relatively distant foreground figures, and by the samke token, a number of clearly much later works, probably dating from the last decade of the artist's life, employ a much lower horizon line, and a  viewpoint level with the heads of the foreground figures which are large and are seen in close proximity with the viewer.  Several pictures, including the present one, show stages of development in between the two types, with a progressively lower viewpoint and horizon line.  By comparison with them, a dating for this picture towards the middle of the second decade of the 17th century is plausible. Ariane van Suchtelen, in the catalogue of the Hague exhibition dates it circa 1610-1615 (see Literature), comparing it with other relatively large-scale winter landscapes in Toledo, Schwerin and London which are composed in a similar way, with tall trees and buildings framing the stage of ice on one side, and which share several common motifs,  (idem, the Toledo and London paintings reproduced under no. 6, figs 1 & 2).\nAlbert Blankert has observed that the old man in the right foreground occurs in several other winter scenes by Avercamp: to the left of a picture in Toledo, Museum of Art, and in the centre of a tondo in Budapest, Museum of Fine Arts; and in the Winter Landscape with a Brewery, in the National Gallery, London, where he is seated (see Blankert, op. cit., figs. 8, 16, 15).  Blankert suggests that he might be a personification of winter.  The couple approaching on skates, hand-in-hand in the middle distance, in the middle of the frozen river, occur in other paintings by Avercamp, including his early winter landscape in the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam, and another, probably roughly contemporary with the present picture, in The National Gallery, London.  As Ariane van Suchtelen has observed, the man in the left foreground who draws his cape up in front of his face up so that the hem is just below the tip of his nose, derives from a well-known print dating from about 1560 by Frans Huys after Pieter Bruegel the Elder (op. cit., p. 17, reproduced fig. 5).\n\nCharacteristic of Avercamp are the pentiments in the form of underdrawing rendered visible by the translucency of the paint.  These are especially visible to the left of the foot of the left hand of the two trees, where cloths hanging from a rail were drawn longer, extending to the ice.  Behind the figure group to the immediate left of this point is the pentiment of the outline of a boat, presumably originally intended to be seen frozen into the ice.\nSigned with monogram on the barrel lower center
US
NY, US
US

medium

Oil on panel

creator

Hendrick Avercamp de Stomme van Kampen

dimensions

21 by 37 1/4 in.; 53.5 by 94.5 cm.

exhibition

London, H. Terry-Engell Gallery, Fifteen Important Old Master Paintings, 1966-7, no. 6, reproduced in the catalogue; London, Victoria and Albert Museum, The British Antique Dealers Associaton Golden Jubilee Exhibition, May 1968, no. 2, reproduced in the catalogue plate VII; Amsterdam, K. & V. Waterman, Zwolle, Provinciehuis,  Frozen Silence: Hendick Avercamp, 1584-1634, Barent Avercamp, 1612-1679, 1982, no. 7; The Hague, Mauritshuis, Holland Frozen in Time, 24 November 2001 - 25 February 2002, no. 6.

literature

Weltkunst, vol. XXXVI, 15 October 1966, p. 939, no. 20; Apollo, April 1968, Supplement, Golden Jubilee Exibition of the British Antique Dealers Assosciation, p. 5, no.16, reproduced; C.J. Welcker, Hendrick Avercamp...'Schilders tot Campen', 1979, p. 222, no. S 156, reproduced in colour facing the title page, and on the dust jacket; A. Blankert, "Hendrick Avercamp", in Frozen Silence..., exhibition catalogue, 1982, pp. 27, 30; G. S. Keyes, "Hendrick Avercamp and the winter Landscape", in Frozen Silence..., exhibition catalogue, 1982, p. 45; W.L. van de Watering, in Frozen Silence..., exhibition catalogue, pp.84-9, no. 7, reproduced in colour and with details in black and white; A. van Suchtelen, in Holland Frozen in Time.  The Dutch Winter Landscape in the Golden Age, exhibition catalogue, the Hague 2001, unpaginated, no. 6, reproduced in colour.

provenance

Jacobus Lauwers, his deceased sale, Amsterdam, van der Schley etc., December 13 1802, lot 5, as 'A Avercamp', bought by Groiter; Dr. Ch.  Mannheim, Neuilly-sur-Seine, before 1900; By descent to his grandson, Dr. Ch. Maillant (who Gallicized his surname), until 1966; With J. Lenthal, Paris, 1966; With Herbert Terry-Engell, London, 1966: With Gebr. Douwes, Amsterdam, 1966: Dr. and Mrs. Leonard Slotover, London, 1966-1974; With L.eonard Koetser, London, 1974; D. Crabtree, Cape Town, 1977; With Leonard & David Koetser, Geneva, 1977; From whom bought by the present owner.

signedDate

Signed with monogram on the barrel lower center

consignmentDesignation

The Property of a Private Collector

creator_nationality_dates

Amsterdam 1585 - 1634 Kampen


*Note: The price is not recalculated to the current value. It refers to the actual final price at the time the item was sold.

*Note: The price is not recalculated to the current value. It refers to the actual final price at the time the item was sold.


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