de jonckheere old masters

Abel Grimmer

Winter: snow-covered landscape with fortified castle and games on the ice

Panel: 31 x 42 cm


Painted with finesse and meticulousness, this beautiful Snow-covered landscape with fortified castle and games on the ice bears witness to the mastery achieved by Abel Grimmer at the turn of the 15th and 16th century. With its combination of colours and lively movement, this painting encompasses all the artist’s talent. Following the pictorial tradition of the books of hours from the end of the mediaeval era, it also draws inspiration from the work of Pieter Brueghel the Elder. However, Grimmer adds his own special style, filled with resounding colours and resolutely modern simplified forms.

The winter landscape is one of the artist’s favourite themes. Benefiting from a large clientele, Abel Grimmer developed his own particular pictographic vocabulary: the frozen diamond-shaped pond (or fishpond), villagers enjoying the pleasures of ice-skating, soldiers in Spanish-style dress passing a sleigh, are all references that are part of this winter scene. A brilliant colourist, Grimmer demonstrates his know-how in the rendering of various shades of white and grey while dotting the heart of his painting with bright red touches, which splutter before our eyes like the sparks of a firework display.

Although the viewer might initially believe this to be a simple celebration of the joys of winter, a deeper examination will reveal that this scene, just like Pieter Brueghel’s famous Bird Trap, is enriched with a hidden meaning. This painting, a version of which exists in the collections of Antwerp’s Smit van Gelder museum [1], contrasts the comical scenes of a snowball fight or the more or less controlled antics of the peasants sliding on the ice, with tragic scenes such as the man falling into the castle’s moat or the burning house that few people seem to want to extinguish. However strange it may seem, the rest of villagers, who have adopted the frozen lake as their playground, do not appear to be troubled by the fire. Sledge races and games of kolf (the ancestor of hockey and golf) take place on this natural skating rink.

Grimmer takes great care to meticulously depict the village and its castle. The magnificent manor house, lined by four towers, stands in the centre of the painting. It is surrounded by the hamlet’s large houses. The brick and cob gives the whole scene an ochre tone, which seems to warm up the thick layer of snow. However, the slate-coloured sky creates an almost dramatic tension that shatters this idyllic image of a rich and carefree world. Undoubtedly echoing the fire, it reminds us of the precariousness of existence and the fragility of selfish happiness.

Known as one of the greatest masters of Flemish landscape, Abel Grimmer hereby reveals his talent as one of the great chroniclers of life during his era.

[1] Abel Grimmer, Winter, panel, 22.6 x 22.8 cm, Antwerp, Musée Smit van Gelder.

Provenance :
Private collection

Littérature :
Bertier de Sauvigny, Reine, Jacob et Abel Grimmer, catalogue raisonné, La Renaissance du livre, 1991, cat. no. 26, p. 284;
Nouvelle Biographie Nationale 11, Académie Royale des sciences, des lettres et des beaux-arts de Belgique, 2012, Planche VIII, pp. 174-176.