de jonckheere old masters

Adam van Breen

Winter landscape with elegant skaters on a frozen lake, ice-breakers and a town in the distance

Panel: 56,5 x 104 cm


In the 17th century, the winter landscape, or winterkens, became a pictorial genre in its own right, sought after by many art-lovers. Alongside Hendrick Avercamp, the pioneer of this type of painting, Adam van Breen is now considered as one of the finest specialists of these seasonal landscapes, depicting the pleasures of games played on ice by elegant characters from high society.

This Winter landscape with elegant skaters on a frozen lake, ice-breakers and a town in the distance offers a fascinating panorama of the winter games highly prized by the Dutch aristocracy. As the winters of 1610 and 1611 were particularly harsh, artists were inspired by the extreme climate conditions and the leisure activities that came about as a result. Adam van Breen demonstrates his talent as a painter through the subtlety of the colours employed, the finesse and precision of the lines, the composition's balance and his gift for describing his natural and human environment. Just like in the Skating scene in the Louvre, the Skating on the frozen River Amstel in Washington and The winter landscape with elegant figures skating in Berlin, the master asserts a pronounced taste for the representation of richly-dressed characters, whose luxurious garments with their multiple tight folds are meticulously detailed. The motif of the red plume of feathers embellishing the hats, the sled pulled by a galloping horse and the little yapping dog are recurring examples. Hence, these paintings are both picturesque and pleasant scenes of life, and a precious source of information on the fashions and entertainments of the day.
In this vast ephemeral playground, the group in the centre of the painting is skating, while others are sitting on board ice-breakers, an amusing early 17th century invention but rather unstable owing to its weight. These vessels with their pennants billowing in the wind contrast with the river boat covered in ice and blocked in the middle of the frozen river. The presence of the boats draws our attention to the back of the painting where an atmospheric perspective suggests a town on the horizon, flanked on the right by an opulent castle. A delicate light emanates from the cloudy sky hiding a timid sun, suggested by the pale pink tones, which is barely warming the muffled-up crowd, cavorting joyfully on the river while bringing a harmonious calm to the painting.

Adam van Breen is also responsible for a Winter landscape with castle outside the town walls, signed and dated "A. v. Breen 1611". Kept at the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, it has many similarities with our panel, in particular, the couple in the foreground where the man can be seen thrusting his leg forward, and the arrangement of the group turned towards the ice-breaker which closes the composition on the left. The same cold diffuse light bathes the scene, bestowing a beautiful harmony of tones upon it. Thanks to this painting, it was possible to attribute another version to this artist, which was presented in 1983 by the Hoogsteder-Naumann Gallery in New York, dated circa 1615.

The Winter landscape with elegant skaters on a frozen lake, ice-breakers and a town in the distance is very close to a version by a contemporary of Adam van Breen, David Vinckboons (1576 – after 1632), a renowned landscape painter who played a major role in the distribution of Flemish ideas in Holland, and whose work was widely popularized by engraving. It would appear that van Breen copied Vinckboons composition, monogrammed and dated 1611, which passed through our gallery. Another version is kept at the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum in Spain. This illustrates the incredible emulation present in the Dutch artistic milieu, and the success of paintings of winter with elegant scenes. Along with the Avercamp brothers and van de Venne, all these artists contributed to the renown of Dutch painting in the first half of the 17th century. Through the variety of his winter paintings, his brilliant and meticulous style and the minute details with which he studded his compositions, Adam van Breen appears as one of the worthy representatives of this fascinating pictorial trend. This exceptionally well-executed painting is indeed magnificent proof of that.

Provenance :
Private collection, France