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Hendrick Avercamp

Winter landscape with city dwellers and ice skaters

Panel: 31 x 52,5 cm
Signed with the initials HA bottom left

introduction

The painting of snowy landscapes glorified by the Flemish artists Hans Bol, Gillis van Coninxloo and David Vinckboons became popular in the Northern Netherlands again around 1600. At the beginning of the 17th century, severe frost affected this region and this dramatic climate change became an excellent pretext for many Amsterdam painters to revive the genre. Hendrick Avercamp was undoubtedly the best and most subtle storyteller of this Little Ice Age as can be seen in this magnificent Winter Landscape with City Dwellers and Ice Skaters, which depicts the pleasures of winter.

Winter scenes became popular in northern painting thanks to the widespread circulation of Frans Huys’ engraving of Pieter Brueghel the Elder’s work. Portraying Ice Skaters in front of Saint George’s Gate in Antwerp, this engraving marks the beginning of painting winter games on ice. The frozen river became the stage for both intimate and comical scenes, and it was the moralising potential of these small scenes that made these magnificent white landscapes so successful. Similar to the wonderful composition of 1610 kept at the Mauritshuis, our almost identically-sized painting displays the immensity of a white landscape dotted with figures. The fantasy and poetry of Avercamp’s universe can be found in the poses of each of the small characters. It would seem that Avercamp opted for a drawn-out format, fewer characters and a lower horizon line in his works executed after 1610, when he left Amsterdam to return to Kampen. A tree on the left opens onto a small town, and a winter mist softly sketched in the distance envelopes the painting with a diaphanous veil.

The city dwellers have turned the river into their playground; young and old, rich and poor, all try their hand at Kolf, fishing, tobogganing, sleigh-riding and skating. The one distinguishing feature is their clothes, which Avercamp accentuates with patches of colour. In the foreground, a character leans against a wooden barrier with his back to us; the painter thus cleverly introduces the viewer to the scene. Several standards flap in the skies of Kampen.

Without a doubt, the beauty of this winter landscape resides in the great tranquillity it exudes. The freshness and richness of his slightly silvery palette, rendered in various shades of white, bluish-grey and light brown, fully convey the atmosphere that must have reigned on these icy yet cheerful afternoons. Here, the “mute from Kampen” reaches the pinnacle of his art: belonging to a number of fine collections, the gentle and enveloping light of this painting must have certainly delighted its owners.

Provenance :
Sale, Amsterdam, 6.10.1801, lot 1;
A. Katz, Dieren (before 1940);
J. L. ten Bos Collection, Almelo, 1949;
E.H.F.W. van Schaeck Mathon Collection, Aerdenhout;
K. L. Sander Collection, Bloemendaal, 1963;
Wiggin Prescott Collection;
sale, Christie´s, New York, 9.1.1981, lot 21;
David Koester;
Private collection, Germany.

Littérature :
C.J. Welcker, Hendrick Avercamp, 1585-1634; Barent Avercamp, 1612-1679, Schilderg tot Campen, Davaco Publishers, the Netherlands, 1979, p. 205, no. 14.6.

Expositions :
Kampen, Avercamp, Rathaus Kampen, 09.07-13.08.1949, no. 5;
Amsterdam, Waterman Gallery, Frozen Silence, Amsterdam, 1982, no. 3.