de jonckheere old masters

Adam van Breen

Winter landscape with elegant skaters on a frozen lake and a town in the distance

Panel: 49,5 x 86,7 cm


In the 17th century, the winter landscape – known as winterkens – became a pictorial genre in its own right, recognised and sought after by many art-lovers. Alongside Hendrick Avercamp, Adam van Breen was a true pioneer of this type of painting. He is now considered as one of the finest specialists in these white landscapes, cultivating the pleasures of games on ice and the taste for elegant characters.

This charming composition, featuring a Winter landscape with elegant skaters on a frozen lake and a town in the distance, is Dutch in style; emphasis is placed on the portrayal of lighting effects on the frozen spaces. Just like in the Skating scene kept in the Louvre [1], van Breen composes his landscape by using an atmospheric perspective. In the foreground, he provides rich details and pays great attention to the colours of the clothes of the delightful models dressed in the fashions of the day and representing the social elite of his time. A crowd of skaters joyfully bustles on the frozen lake, which is conceived as a vast, ephemeral playground. Using a palette of great chromatic subtlety, our artist plays with shades ranging from grey to creamy-white with the aim of giving this entertaining scene a true sensation of cold. The numerous city dwellers, undoubtedly fearing the cold, become increasingly energetic and try out the various activities such as skating or kolf (the ancestor of ice hockey).

A delicate luminosity emanates from the grey, cloudy sky, which thin rays of sunshine attempt to penetrate. In his oeuvre, the way he works the light appears to be essential and is brilliantly expressed in his painting. In a drawing in the Rijksmuseum [2], he seems to apply himself to drawing the characters, the details of their clothing and the variety of their attitudes. But in other paintings also kept in Amsterdam, the variations in light are even more startling. In both his portrayal of the great view of the Vijverberg [3], and winter fun [4], Adam van Breen endeavours to make the buildings melt into an evanescent mist. All these elements make this painting one of the masterpieces of the genre, allowing us to assess the true value of this relatively unknown artist who died all too soon. Nevertheless, he played an important role in the development of Dutch winter landscape painting, a genre that was later exemplified by A. van der Neer, of course, but also A. Verstraelen and A. Vermeulen.

[1] Adam van Breen, Skating scene, panel, 35 x 65 cm, Paris, Musée du Louvre.
[2] Adam van Breen, Winter landscape with figures, 154 x 214 mm, Amsterdam, Rijksmuseum.
[3] Adam van Breen, Le Vijverberg, La Haye en Hiver, avec le Prince Maurice et sa suite, panel, 71,5 x 133,5 cm, Amsterdam, Rijksmuseum.
[4] Adam van Breen, Winter fun, panel, 52,2 x 90,5 cm, signed and dated A.v.Breen 1611, Amsterdam, Rijksmuseum.

Provenance :
Leonard Koetser Gallery, 1970, as “Adrian Pietersz. van de Venne”;
Private collection.

same artist