Jan van Goyen is one of the great proponents of the innovative “tonal” style of Dutch landscape painting that celebrated local scenes and subjects in hues of brown, gray and ochre. The tonal landscapes of the 1630s and 1640s ushered in the golden age of Dutch landscape painting, and Van Goyen’s body of work spans the beginnings of this style through its transition into more colorful and atmospheric depictions.
Ice Scene near a Wooden Observation Tower illustrates an important transitional moment in Van Goyen’s career, as he moved away from the tonal style. Here he concentrates on weather and atmospheric effects, such as the swiftly moving clouds that convey the day’s cold breeze and the bright blue sky peaking from behind them.
This winter scene also provides a perfect opportunity for admiring Van Goyen’s technique as well as for enjoying the narrative presented. Couples skating, passengers riding a horse-drawn sled, and men setting out to ice fish indicate the range of winter activities enjoyed by the Dutch during the severe winters of the 17th century. Van Goyen’s range of techniques mirrors the range of activities, from the thickly painted clouds to the quickly brushed-in outlines of figures and boats.
lower right on the boat, VG in monogram: VG 1646
Jacques-Phillippe Le Bas [1707-1783], Paris; (his estate sale, at his residence, Paris, 1-6 December 1783, no. 1); Dulac. (Eugene Slatter Gallery, London), in 1949. (Thomas Agnew & Sons, Ltd., London); purchased 1976 by private collection, United States; (sale, Sotheby's, London, 30 January 2014, no. 37); (Richard Green [Fine Paintings], London); sold 30 May 2014 to NGA.
- Exhibition of Dutch and Flemish Masters, Eugene Slatter Gallery, London, 1949, no. 4, repro., as Skating Scene.
- Beck, Hans-Ulrich. Jan van Goyen 1596-1656, ein Oeuvreverzeichnis. 4 vols. Vol. 2: Katalog der Gemälde. Amsterdam, 1973: 16, no. 30, repro.
- Wheelock, Arthur K., Jr. "Gifts and Acquisitons: Jan van Goyen, Ice Scene Near a Wooden Observation Tower" National Gallery of Art Bulletin 51 (Fall 2014): 21-22, repro.