While the tradition of the winter landscape can be traced to Pieter Brueghel the Elder (1525-1569), it was the magnificent storyteller Hendrick Avercamp who made it into a genre of its own. What Avercamp – who was deaf and mute – could not say with words he masterfully interpreted in his artwork.
Hendrick Avercamp was born in Amsterdam on January 27, 1585. In 1586 his father Barend was offered the post of town apothecary in Kampen. Together with his wife Beatrix Vekemans and their infant son Hendrick, he left Amsterdam and settled in the small town on the other side of the Zuiderzee. From an early age, Hendrick exhibited an extraordinary aptitude for drawing, and, with his mother’s support, he returned to Amsterdam at the beginning of the 17th century to study under the Dutch portrait and historical painter Pieter Isaacsz.
After his training in Amsterdam, Avercamp returned to Kampen and devoted himself entirely he painting of winter landscapes characterized by an abundance of narrative details.
These lively scenes, for example Winter Scene on a Frozen Canal (appr. 1620) rendered in the cool, silvery light of the season’s frost, show a cross-section of society. People from every walk of life are depicted out on the ice. On Avercamp's various paintings one can see children pelting each other with snowballs, love birds romantically skating hand in hand, unfortunate souls slipping or falling through the ice, and even naughty details such as men urinating or couples making love.
What makes Avercamp’s paintings so interesting is that they demand your attention and keep you engaged. No matter how long you look at them, there’s always something new to discover.
Avercamp’s paintings have a timeless quality that attests to the beauty of nature even in the harshest of seasons. They manage to convince the viewer of the pleasures that are to be found outdoors, no matter how frigid the temperatures. Even today, this is something which the Dutch will wholeheartedly agree with – judging from the masses that appear on the frozen canals in winter, given the chance.
To read much more about the Hendrick Avercamp, read Issue 9, of Dutch the magazine.
More on Dutch skating culture in Episode 2 of Dutch the Podcast (Skate the Lake).
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