Winter activities popular in the Netherlands of the 17th century are on full display in this painting by Salomon van Ruysdael. Skating, a pasttime in the region since the late Middle Ages, is featured. Ruysdael captures perfectly the distinctive posture and balance of those propelling themselves forward on the ice, as well as the awkward sitting and adjusting of laces that accompanies the endeavor. Figures also traverse the ice on foot or in horse-drawn sleighs, while children in the left foreground sit in a sleigh pulled by a goat as dogs tussle nearby. Along the river stand tents, from which wares were sold to those traveling or frolicking on frozen rivers and canals. Such practices flourished when winters were particularly cold in Northern Europe and low temperatures extended well into the spring, making iced-over waterways alternative village squares.
Beginning with Pieter Bruegel I's winter scenes of the 1560s, artists took up such subjects with gusto (see P. Roelofs et al., Hendrick Avercamp: Master of the ice scene, exhibition catalogue, Amsterdam and Washington, 2009, pp. 23-29, 66-67). In the 1620s, Ruysdael painted three such scenes that evoke the work of his predecessor Esaias van de Velde (1587-1630) (W. Stechow 1938, op. cit., nos. 1-3). Later in the 1650s, Ruysdael returned to winter scenes, which nevertheless remain somewhat unusual in his oeuvre, as only around twenty pictures of this subject by him are known (P. Sutton, Masters of 17th-Century Dutch Landscape Painting, exhibition catalogue, Amsterdam, Boston and Philadelphia, 1988, pp. 474-475). In these works, Ruysdael often incorporated views of recognizable cities and landmarks. Although he spent his career in Haarlem, he traveled extensively throughout the Netherlands, using his excursions to gather images for his paintings which, while not always geographically accurate, contain recognizable landmarks. The present picture is dated 1653, the same year as two other works, one now in the Mauritshuis, The Hague (inv. 1128) and another in a private collection (P. Sutton, 1988, op. cit., fig. 1), that depict similar skating scenes outside the city of Arnhem. These works, like the present painting, depict a frozen river with a low horizon line, with a city visible on the right.
The city depicted here is Vianen in the province of Utrecht. The skyline is distinguished by Batestein castle, a residence of the Brederode family on the river Lek. During the Eighty Years War, the castle served as a meeting place for leaders of the Dutch revolt, while later it was known for its ornamental gardens built by Johan Wolfert Brederode in 1630. Vianen was a popular site for artists. Ruysdael painted the city in milder weather in a River Landscape now in the New Walk Museum and Art Gallery, Leicester (inv. L.F74.1955.0.0). Hendrick Vroom had depicted the river and castle with its gardens around 1620-1625 (Stedelijk Museum Vianen, inv. 1250), while a more direct precedent for Van Ruysdael's work is a skating scene with Batestein castle by Jan van Goyen from 1624 in the collection of Baron van Dedem (Sutton 2002, op. cit., no. 17). Rather than mimic the gray skies and muted light of Van Goyen, however, Ruysdael preferred to depict the bright blue sky and vibrant color of a crisp winter day.
Signature: Signed with monogram 'S.VR' and dated '1653' (on the back of the central carriage)
The Hague, Galerie Jacques Goudstikker, 1919, no. 113.
Amsterdam, Rijksmuseum, Tentoonstelling van Oude Kunst, 1929, no. 126.
London, The Royal Academy of Arts, Dutch Art 1450-1900, 1929, no. 183.
Amsterdam, J. Goudstikker N.V., Catalogus der tentoonstelling van Hollandsche winterlandschappen uit de 17e eeuw, 1932, no. 83.
Haarlem, 1934, no. 20.
Brussels, Weltausstellung, 1935, no. 768.
Amsterdam, 1936, no. 43.
Rome, Palazzo delle esposizione, Le XVIIe siècle Européen: rélisme, classicisme, baroque, December 1956-January 1957, no. 264.
Berlin, Gemäldegalerie Staatliche Museen zu Berlin and Altonaer Museum im Hamburg, Norddeutsches Landesmuseum, Kleine Eiszeit: Holländische Landschaftsmalerei im 17. Jahrhundert,
12 September 2001-6 January 2002, 30 January-7 April 2002, no. 79.
Catalogue de la collection Goudstikker d'Amsterdam, Amsterdam, 1919, no. 113, illustrated.
Dutch Art, An Illustrated Souvenir of the Exhibition of Dutch Art at Burlington House, London, 1929, p. 69, no. 82, illustrated.
W. Stechow, Salomon van Ruysdael, Berlin, 1938, no. 7.
D. Hannema, Catalogue of the H.E. ten Cate collection, Rotterdam, 1955, I, p. 14; II, pl. 8.
W. Stechow, Salomon van Ruysdael, eine einführung in seine kunst, Berlin, 1975, p. 69, no. 7.
P. Sutton, Dutch & Flemish paintings: the collection of Willem, Baron van Dedem, London, 2002, p. 105, under no. 17.
PROPERTY OF HERMANN ALEXANDER BEYELER
King Leopold II of Belgium (1835-1909).
G. Bowdler Gipps; Christie's, London, 8 July 1910, lot 102 (1,080 gns. to the following).
with Colnaghi's, London, 1915.
August Janssen, Amsterdam, 1919, from whom purchased by the following.
with Jacques Goudstikker, Amsterdam.
Hendrikus Egbertus ten Cate (1868-1955), Almelo, by 1929.
G. Cramer, The Hague, 1968.