Aert van der Neer possessed a wonderful ability to convey the activities and atmosphere of a calm winter day. Under a light blue sky scattered with clouds, people of all ages skate, push sleds, ride in horse-drawn sleighs, and socialize on a frozen river. An intense game of colf (or kolf, a cross between modern-day hockey and golf) is underway in the foreground, while a handsomely dressed couple greet equally elegant friends near the riverbank. The convivial and carefree sentiment of the scene evokes the enjoyment the Dutch derived from being on the ice.
Van der Neer had been active as a landscape painter since the early 1630s, yet his first dated winter landscape is from 1642. His early paintings bear remarkable compositional similarities to winter scenes by Hendrick Avercamp, with high vantage points but low horizon lines. In Winter in Holland: Skating Scene, signed and dated 1645, Van der Neer shifted away from that formula, as he distributed many more people horizontally across the foreground in dense groups, thus achieving a more gradual recession of space and a more natural incorporation of man’s presence in nature.
The painting also reveals Van der Neer’s fascination with light, and his selective layering of paints to convey sunlit forms and textures, including the shimmering translucency of ice and frosted surfaces as they catch the light. Around the time Van der Neer executed Winter in Holland: Skating Scene, he also became a specialist in nocturnes (night scenes), which represent another aspect of his keen interest in light and atmosphere. Although the Gallery’s winter scene portrays a bright daytime view that is dramatically different from the dark, moonlit paintings that would follow, it represents an important component of Van der Neer’s innovative and productive career.
Aert van der Neer possessed a remarkable ability to convey the activities and atmosphere of a winter’s day. In this bright scene, men and women, young and old gather on a winding, frozen river. Nestled between the snow-dusted cottages and tall, gnarled trees lining the riverbanks, they skate, sled, ride in horse-drawn sleighs, and socialize under a cloudy, light blue sky. Among the most amusing vignettes is an intense game of colf (or kolf, a cross between modern-day hockey and golf) underway in the foreground, in which one of the players, hunched over and gripping his club, attempts to hit his target with his friends watching closely. In another charming moment, a handsome couple dressed in their finest—he with a copper-colored ensemble and a sword hanging from his belt, she in her Brabant huik, an old-fashioned headdress consisting of a flat, round disc with a small upstanding spike and floor-length black veil—greet equally elegant friends standing at the riverbank nearby. While the rutted, icy terrain of the riverside path indicates that winter is well underway, the sentiment of the scene is convivial and carefree—a testament to the enormous pleasure being on the ice gave to people of all ages during the 17th century.
Signed and dated 1645, Winter in Holland: Skating Scene belongs to a transitional moment in Van der Neer’s career.
Wolfgang Stechow, Dutch Landscape Painting of the Seventeenth Century (London, 1966), 93; and Wolfgang Schulz, Aert van der Neer (Doornspijk, 2002), 81–82.
Wolfgang Schulz, Aert van der Neer (Doornspijk, 2002), 82.
I would like to thank Arthur Wheelock for bringing Verstraelen’s work to my attention. Hardly any of Van der Neer’s early paintings can still be traced. However, many are reproduced in Schulz’s catalogue raisonné. See Wolfgang Schulz, Aert van der Neer (Doornspijk, 2002), 146, 193, 16–177, 183; nos. 75, 244, 171, 200; illustrations 1, 2, 3, 5.
See, for example, Hendrick Avercamp, A Scene on the Ice, c. 1625, oil on panel, National Gallery of Art, Washington, Ailsa Mellon Bruce Fund, 1967.3.1.
Wolfgang Stechow focused on the single- versus double-bank construction in particular as a marker of Van der Neer’s artistic maturation. Wolfgang Stechow, Dutch Landscape Painting of the Seventeenth Century (London, 1966), 93.
What inspired Van der Neer to begin painting winter landscapes similar to those of Avercamp and Verstraelen is not clear, but it may have been a simple matter of opportunity. Van der Neer had been living in Amsterdam since at least 1629, having relocated from the small town of Gorinchem not far from Rotterdam.
Van der Neer was first documented in Amsterdam on March 16, 1629, the date of his civic marriage to Lijsbeth Govaertsdr. Schulz has argued that because Van der Neer was listed as a painter on his certificate of marriage, a process that required a three-year apprenticeship that may have occurred in Amsterdam, it is possible that he had lived in that city since 1626. Wolfgang Schulz, Aert van der Neer (Doornspijk, 2002), 10.
Verstraelen was first documented in Amsterdam on November 11, 1628, when, at the age of 34, he married Magdalena Bosijn. A. D. de Vries, “Biografische aanteekeningen betreffende voornamelijk Amsterdamsche schilders, plaatsnijders, enz. en hunne verwanten” Oud Holland 4 (1886): 215–224.
Van der Neer’s earliest winter landscape of 1642 adhered more closely to the tradition established by Avercamp and continued by Verstraelen. However, Winter in Holland: Skating Scene signals the beginning of a shift away from their formulae. The painting maintains the single-bank view in the foreground, but the recession of space is achieved more gradually, and the figures are more numerous and densely grouped. They have also been distributed horizontally across the foreground, effecting a gentler integration of the human presence within the space of the landscape.
Infrared reflectography reveals that these compositional changes did not come easy to Van der Neer, in particular the effort to realize figural harmony. Although an overall underdrawing is not visible, there are several changes to the staffage, including a group of figures around the short, craggy tree that he either painted out or never completed.
I would like to thank Dina Anchin and Sarah Gowen Murray for sharing their observations on the painting’s technical aspects with me. See Technical Summary for this entry. The infrared reflectogram is kept in NGA curatorial files.
While Winter in Holland: Skating Scene reveals Van der Neer’s evolving effort to more naturally incorporate the human presence in nature, it also betrays his fascination with light. His selection of a bright, wintry day enabled him to experiment, for example, with how he might use selective layering of paints to convey sunlit forms and textures. Van der Neer prepared his panel with an off-white ground, which he then coated with an extremely thin tan layer.
See the Technical Summary for this entry.
Around the time Van der Neer executed Winter in Holland: Skating Scene, he was also developing a specialty in nocturnes, or night scenes, evidently advancing his keen interest in light and atmosphere.
See Aert van der Neer, Moonlit Landscape with Bridge, probably 1648/1650, oil on panel, National Gallery of Art, Washington, Patrons’ Permanent Fund, 1990.6.1.
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lower left, in monogram, first and last two letters in ligature: AV DN / 1645
Sir George Donaldson [1845-1925], London, by 1902; (his sale, London, 1906); purchased 1907 by William A. Clark [1839-1925]; bequest 1926 to the Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington; acquired 2014 by the National Gallery of Art.
- Loan Exhibition. Masterpieces of the Corcoran Gallery of Art: A Benefit Exhibition in Honor of the Gallery's Centenary, 1959, unnumbered catalogue, repro.
- Antiques to Impressionism: The William A. Clark Collection, Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, 2001-2002, unnumbered catalogue, repro.
The painting support consists of two quarter-sawn oak (est.) panels with horizontal grain, butt-joined along the center of the panel, and there is a weak convex warp.
X-radiographs of the painting indicate that the boards are butt-joined. The x-ray images show the change in the grain along the joint. X-radiography was carried out with a Comet technologies XRP-75MXR-75HP tube. The image was captured digitally using a Carestream Industrex Blue Digital Imaging Plate 5537 (14 in. × 17 in.). The x-radiographs were taken using 25kv, 5mA, 25 seconds, with 100.25 in. distance from the source to the plate. The digital x-radiograph captures were mosaicked using Adobe Photoshop CS5.
There is a double ground that consists of a lower off-white layer and a yellow-tan upper layer. Each layer is thin and applied overall.
In an examination report dated May 2002, Melanie Gifford speculated that the panel might have been commercially prepared with these two ground layers.
Examination with infrared reflectography (IRR) reveals that while an overall underdrawing is not visible, the artist first delineated most of the figures in black paint on top of the landscape and then incorporated the black lines into the figures as he painted.
Infrared reflectography was carried out using a Santa Barbara Focalplane InSb camera filtered to 1.1–1.4 microns (J filter).
The paint medium is estimated to be oil and was applied thinly and predominantly wet-into-wet. The darker colors of the sky and ice, the earth tones of the land and trees, and the figures were painted on top of the cool gray layer. For the sky, the lighter cloud tones had already been applied, and so the darker colors were painted around the cloud formations. After these layers were dry, the trunks and branches of the larger trees on the right side of the composition as well as additional white highlights and the details of the figures were painted over the essentially completed landscape.
The painting is in good condition. There are several small cracks in the wood, but the panel is structurally sound. There are minor ground and paint losses, several accretions, and areas of abrasion. The latter is most prevalent in areas of thin dark paint. The current varnish is clear and saturating. There are minor areas of retouching within the sky and along the panel edges.
Dina Anchin, based on the examination report by Sarah Gowen and the examination notes and technical entry by Melanie Gifford in Antiquities to Impressionism: The William A. Clark Collection, Corcoran Gallery of Art (Washington, DC, 2001).
December 9, 2019
- Hofstede de Groot, Cornelis. A Catalogue Raisonné of the Works of the Most Eminent Dutch Painters of the Seventeenth Century. 8 vols. Translated by Edward G. Hawke. London, 1907-1927: 7(1923):460, no. 568.
- Hofstede de Groot, Cornelis. Beschreibendes und kritisches Verzeichnis der Werke der hervorragendsten holländischen Maler des XVII. Jahrhunderts. 10 vols. Esslingen and Paris, 1907-1928: 7(1918):501, no. 568.
- Carroll, Dana H. Catalogue of Objects of Fine Art and Other Properties at the Home of William Andrews Clark, 962 Fifth Avenue. Part I. Unpublished manuscript, n.d. (1925): 130, no. 65.
- Corcoran Gallery of Art. Illustrated Handbook of the W. A. Clark Collection. Washington, 1928: 49.
- Corcoran Gallery of Art. Illustrated Handbook of the W. A. Clark Collection. Washington, 1928: 52.
- Breckenridge, James. D. A Handbook of Dutch and Flemish Paintings in the William Andrews Clark Collection. Washington, 1955: 32, repro.
- Corcoran Gallery of Art. Masterpieces of the Corcoran Gallery of Art. Washington, 1959: 12, repro.
- Stechow, Wolfgang. Dutch Landscape Painting of the Seventeenth Century. Kress Foundation Studies in the History of European Art 1. London, 1966: 93, 95, 485, no. 182. repro.
- Bachmann, Fredo. Das Leben des Aert van der Neer. Weltkunst, 1969: 1348-1349.
- Bachmann, Fredo. Aert van der Neer. Bremen, 1982: 48-49, no. 34, repro.
- Sutton, Peter C. A Guide to Dutch Art in America. Washington and Grand Rapids, 1986: 299-300, no. 452.
- Sutton, Peter C., et al. Masters of Seventeenth-Century Dutch Landscape Painting. Exh. cat. Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam; Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; Philadelphia Museum of Art. Boston, 1987: 39-40, fig. 54
- Sutton, Peter C. Dutch & Flemish Seventeenth-century Paintings: The Harold Samuel Collection. New York, 1992: 127, 129, no. 1, repro.
- Sutton, Peter C., and John Loughman. El Siglo de Oro del Paisaje Holandés/The Golden Age of Dutch Landscape Paintings. Exh. cat. Fundación Colección Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid, 1994: 152, no. 1, repro.
- Coyle, Laura, and Dare Myers Hartwell, eds. Antiquities to Impressionism: The William A. Clark Collection, Corcoran Gallery of Art. Washington, DC, 2001: 23, 69, repro.
- Janson, Anthony F. "Note on the Permanent Collection: An Unpublished Nocturne by Aert van der Neer." The Picker Art Gallery Journal 6, no. 1 (2001-2002): 6-12, no. 5, repro.
- Suchtelen, Ariane van, ed. Holland frozen in Time: the Dutch Winter Landscape in the Golden Age. Exh. cat. Royal Picture Gallery Mauritshuis, The Hague. Zwolle, 2001: n.p., no. 16, fig. 1.
- Schulz, Wolfgang. Aert van der Neer. Translated by Kristin Lohse Belkin. Doornspijk, 2002: 142, nos. 7, 59, repro.