Winter landscapes

For many of you, the sight of snow is a curse, for others it is a sight of wonderment. Maybe the falling of snow, like Christmas presents, is just a meaningful event for children. Many believe snow should only be enjoyed if seen in a photograph or postcard and not deep on the ground in front of one’s house or in one’s driveway. For all you snow-sufferers, let me offer you some works of art which highlight the beauty of snow depicted by different artists, some of whom may be better known for other artistic genres.  Artists love to see the trees in winter, devoid of their foliage, leaving just exposed skeletons. Such winter scenes have their own exquisiteness.

Sunset scenery with snow-covered road and a small farmhouse by Harald Julius Niels Pryn

Sunset Scenery with snow-covered road and a small Farmhouse was one of many paintings featuring wintery conditions by the Danish artist Harald Julius Niels Pryn. Pryn was born on April 11th, 1891 in Frederiksberg, Denmark and lived and worked in Bagsværd, a northern suburb of Copenhagen. He was a self-taught artist and eventually developed the skill to be considered one of the great landscape artists of his time. In his own country he was a well-known Danish landscape painter. His specialty and main subjects were light-filled winter landscapes.  Look at the many colours he used to depict the snow.

Winter Caravan on the Road by Ivan Konstantinovich Aivazovsky

Ivan Konstantinovich Aivazovsky, but baptized as Hovhannes Aivazian, was born in July 1817 into an Armenian family in the Black Sea port of Feodosia in Crimea and spent most of his life there. He was a Russian Romantic painter and although this work, Winter Caravan on the Road, is a winter landscape, he is deemed to be one of the greatest masters of marine art with the vast majority of his works being seascapes. He also often depicted battle scenes, Armenian themes, and portraiture. He was educated at the Imperial Academy of Arts in Saint Petersburg, Aivazovsky travelled to Europe and lived briefly in Italy during the early 1840s. He then returned to Russia and was appointed the main painter of the Russian Navy. He was sponsored by the state and was well-regarded during his lifetime. The saying “worthy of Aivazovsky’s brush”, popularized by Anton Chekhov, was used in Russia for describing something lovely.  It is the haunting image of the horse-drawn procession emerging from the forest mist which appeals to me.  It gives the painting a mystical quality.

Christmas Eve along the Hudson with the Palisades across the River by Samuel S Carr (c. 1879)

Christmas Eve along the Hudson with the Palisades across the River, was painted by the American artist, Samuel S Carr around 1879. Carr was born in England in 1837. He trained at the Royal School of Design in Chester, and around the age of twenty-five immigrated to America and went to live in New York where he studied mechanical drawing. He never married and moved to Brooklyn in 1879 where he lived with his sister Annie and her husband, and remained there for twenty-eight years. He became the president of the Brooklyn Art Club. Much of his work were pastoral scenes which were quite popular in the 1890s and Carr would vary the times of day and seasons in his work.  In the background seen between the large houses we can just make out the steep cliffs on the Jersey side of the Hudson River known as the Palisades.

Winter Landscape by Louis Apol (c.1885)

Probably because of the inclement winter weather in the Low Countries many of the Dutch and Flemish artists painted winter landscapes. Lodewijk Frederik Hendrik (Louis) Apol was a Dutch painter and one of the most prominent representatives of The Hague School. He was born in September 1850 and as a young man received private art lessons. In 1868, aged eighteen, he received a scholarship from the Dutch King Willem III in 1868. He specialized in winter landscapes and this painting, entitled Winter Landscape, demonstrates his extraordinary talent. This painting, like many of his other landscape works are devoid of people and other figures (except the black crows). In 1880 Louis Apol went on an expedition on the SS Willem Barents to Spitsbergen (Nova Zembla) in the Polar Sea. This sea voyage proved to be a great influence on his work.

Winter Morning by Ivan Choultsé

Ivan Fedorovich Choultsé, a Russian realist landscape painter, was born in St Petersburg on October 21st, 1874. After finishing school, he became an electrical engineer and painted in his free time. It was not until he was thirty-years-old that he seriously studied art. Like our previous painter, Louis Apol, Choultsé travelled to Spitzbergen where he completed a number of depictions of the Arctic landscape. By 1916 Choultsé was already known for his art and members of the Tsar family bought his paintings. He painted spectacular snow scenes in which the light seems to come from behind the canvas and glow. The critics were not as complimentary with regards his art and called them photographic and, as such, non-art. However, the public did not agree, and his intricate style of painting is termed “magic-realism”.  Look carefully at his depiction of the snow.  Look how powdery it seems.  It is so life-like. His fame spread across Europe and as far as America and Canada where his paintings sold well. Toronto art dealer G. Blair Laing wrote in his book Memoirs of an Art Dealer, 1979:

“…He painted spectacular snow scenes in which the light seems to come from behind the canvas and glow. The critics scorned these pictures as photographic and called them non-art – but today this style of painting is called “magic-realism” and is much admired by critics and museum..”

Winter Landscape by Caspar David Friedrich (1811)

If ever you wanted a haunting winter scene, none could probably surpass the 1811 painting, Winter Landscape, by the nineteenth-century German Romantic landscape painter Caspar David Friedrich, who many believe is the most influential German artist of his generation. This is not just a winter landscape there is an element of religious symbolism. Look carefully at the foreground and you will see a crippled man sitting on the ground with his back against a large rock. Often at first glance observers miss the figure who seems to blend with the rock.  His crutch lies abandoned in the snow.  It appears he has given up on life.   He looks upwards at the crucifix, hands clasped in prayer. It is thought that the evergreen trees symbolise faith and the Gothic cathedral which looms out of the mist in the background, symbolises the promise of life after death.

The Magpie by Claude Monet (1868-69)

Claude Monet worked on his painting La Pie (The Magpie) during the winter of 1898/9. Monet tackled the great challenge of a snow-covered landscape. The setting for this work is near the commune of Étretat in Normandy. Monet lived in a house near here with his girlfriend, Camille Doncieux and their one-year-old son, Jean. This painting of a place in the countryside near Etretat, was painted en plein air by Monet and uses very unusual pale, luminous colours. In the work we see a solitary black magpie perched atop a gate. The light of the sun shines upon freshly fallen snow creating blue shadows. The work is hailed as one of the best winterscapes by Monet and is part of the Musée d’Oresay permanent collection.  It is said to be one of its most popular.

Hunters in the Snow by Pieter Bruegel the Elder by Pieter Bruegel the Elder (1565)

One of my favourite sixteenth-century painters is Pieter Bruegel the Elder and I am particularly fond of his painting Hunters in the Snow.  The painting is one of a series of works that featured different times of the year. This is a depiction of a wintry scene in a flat-bottomed valley. Three hunters, with little to show for their labours, are returning from an expedition accompanied by their dogs who also appear tired and demoralised after their fruitless outing. The hunters’ backs are bent as they trudge wearily through the snow. It appears to be a cold, yet calm overcast day, and Breugel has used whites and greys to convey the state of the weather. As we look down into the valley we see a number of frozen lakes and a river, on which we can see the silhouettes of the villagers enjoying the weather by skating and playing on the ice.

Skating in Central Park, by Agnes Tait (1934)

Another painting featuring winter pastimes on frozen lakes is the painting Winterscape, Skating in Central Park which was painted in 1934 by the American artist Agnes Tait. I particularly like this work as whenever I visit New York I always visit this beautiful park. Agnes Tait was born in 1894 and was a “Jill of all trades” being a painter, pen-and-ink artist, lithographer, book illustrator, muralist and dancer. Tait depicted the park in late afternoon as the low sun produces a beautifully coloured sky. Her modus operandi for this work was to complete the painting of the landscape first and, only then, add the figures which she would forge into small groups and by doing this she achieved a colourful pattern against the snow and ice. The very dark, almost black tree trunks  is in contrast to the white snow on the ground and the white mist atop of the background trees.

Winter Landscape with Skaters by Hendrick Avercamp

Many of the Dutch and Flemish winter paintings focus on how the people enjoyed the winters when lakes and canals were frozen over and they were able to go out on them and skate. One great exponent of that genre was Hendrick Avercamp. Avercamp was born in Amsterdam in January 1585, a time of the The Little Ice Age, which brought colder winters to parts of Europe and no doubt as a child he had spent the winters skating on the frozen lakes and canals. He later moved to Kampen, a town to the east of Amsterdam. Averkamp, who was mute, was known as “de Stomme van Kampen” (the mute of Kampen).  I particularly love this type of work.  I specifically like the busyness of the depiction.  Everywhere you look there is something going on.

The Drum Bridge and Yuhi Hill at Meguro by Utagawa Hiroshige (1857)

Utagawa Hiroshige was born in Edo in 1797 and originally it was envisioned that he would follow the career of his father, who was a fire-watchman. Both his parents died in 1809. Hiroshige is one of the two great masters of the Japanese landscape woodblock print, the other being Hokusai. Hiroshige’s forte was for his depictions of scenes which featured snow and rain, and has led him to be known as “the artist of rain, snow and mist”. For me, there is something special about Japanese woodblock prints and so one which incorporates a winter scene such as Drum Bridge and Yuhi Hill at Meguro, from the series “One Hundred Famous Views of Edo, had to me in my list of favourites.

Riverside near Mustio by Victor Westerholm

Two contrasting paintings, both depicting winter conditions and yet so different you would not believe they were from the same artist. In his painting Riverside near Mustio, look how Westerholm has, with just a few brushstrokes, and use of tones of grey and green, depicted the glass like surface of the water with its reflective quality.
Victor Axel Westerholm was born in Finland on 4 January 1860, at Nagu island in the Turku archipelago. He was the son of Vicor Westerholm, a ship’s captain, and Maria Westerholm (née Andersson). At the young age of nine, he attended the Finnish Art Society’s Drawing School in Turku. Later he would go to Germany and study under Eügen Ducker in Düsseldorf and then later enrolled at the Académie Julian in Paris. In his late twenties, he became a teacher at the school of the Society of Art in Turku, and in 1891 became the director of the Turku art museum.

Evening Sun by Victor Axel Westerholm

He often painted winter landscapes and sunsets in the archipelago of Åland, where he had his summer residence, Tomtebo, close to the Lemström Canal. It was here that he founded and artists’ colony.  In his work, Evening Sun, look how the red colour of the buildings draw your eyes to focus on them.

Christmas Moonlight by Thomas Kinkade

I don’t suppose I could give you an insight into winterscapes and the hint of Christmas without including a painting by the American artist Thomas Kinkade who was the King of homely, some would say syrupy depictions. His painting Christmas Moonlight certainly evokes a feeling of happiness, serenity and contentment, all of which are things we strive for in life. It is sad to think that the artist himself, in the latter days, could not achieve these feelings for himself.

Poor Woman of the Village by Gustave Courbet

In complete contrast to the Kinkade painting, I thought I would look at a work by the Realist painter, Gustave Courbet. Gustave Courbet was a French painter who came from an affluent family but preferred the company of the ordinary folk. Courbet led the Realism movement in 19th-century French painting and was unswerving in his belief that his depictions of life must be truthful, “warts and all” and by so doing, rejected Academic teachings and the Romanticism movement.
In his painting, Poor Woman of the Village, we see his realistic attitude to a winter scene. The snow-clad landscape is no different to most but the main subject, an old woman, is a study of hardship. In the foreground we see a young child accompanied by an old woman dragging along her goat. This is not a painting oozing with symbolism. It is a painting which evokes a sense of realism as to the plight of the woman and the child as they battle the elements. It is a depiction of the unforgiving severity of winter.

It is for you to choose whether you like the Kinkade style or the Courbet style.  Do we need a period of escapism to make us feel better about life?  Whatever your choice, I wish you all a Happy Christmas.


A Winter Scene with a Man Killing a Pig by David Teniers the Younger

A Winter Scene with a Man Killing a Pig by David Teniers II (c.1650)

I think there is an adage, or maybe it was just advice I was once given, that says you should be happy with what you have or maybe it was that you should just want what you have.  There is certainly an element of truth in that as I can always remember a disastrous policy my former company brought out in making it known to all the employees what each person earned by publishing the grades of each employee and having a separate list of salary against each grade.  Up to that point nobody knew what each other earned and most people had, until then,  been reasonably happy with their remuneration but once they found out what their colleagues earned there were unmerciful screams around the building.

So what has all this got to do with art?  The reason I bring this up is that as I told you the other day I went to see the Group of Seven and Tom Thomson exhibition at the Dulwich Picture Gallery in London and a large number of them focused on winter in Canada.  The winter scenes were well executed and very lifelike.  However the problem came when I decided to have a look around the rest of the Gallery and its permanent collection and came across a winter landscape by David Teniers the Younger and really, in my mind, it was in a different class to those of the Canadian artists.  I was completely amazed by the works of the Canadian artists until my eyes focused on Teniers’ work.  Of course, by now you know I love Dutch and Flemish art and therefore I am slightly biased with my comparison but I thought I would let you compare the two styles and see what you think.

David Teniers the Younger was born in Antwerp in 1610.  His father was David Teniers the Elder, also an artist, as were his son David Teniers III and grandson, David Teniers IV.  His artistic connections don’t end there as his wife, Anna, was the daughter of Jan (Velvet) Brueghel the Elder and granddaughter of the Master himself, Pieter Bruegel the Elder. His initial art training came from his father whose artistic talent would soon be eclipsed by his son, who would become the most famous, most revered and most prolific of the Teniers’ family of artists.  Adriaen Brouwer, who at the time was well known and well loved for his everyday scenes,  greatly influenced Teniers during his early career as did Rubens who was his wife-to-be’s guardian.  At the age of twenty-two he was registered in the Antwerp Guild of St Luke and would later become deacon of that painter’s association.

In 1637 he married Anna Brueghel.   The major part of Anna’s dowry was made up of pictures and drawings completed by her grandfather, Pieter Bruegel the Elder, and her father, Jan Brueghel.  Teniers spent much time studying these beautifully crafted works of art and they proved to be significant in the development of Teniers’s genre painting.  In the year of his marriage to Anna Breughel, Teniers painted his first genre work entitled Peasant Wedding, which hangs in the Hermitage Museum in St Petersburg.  It was the period between 1640 and 1650 that art historians believe Teniers produced his finest works.  His expertise at depicting village scenes with large crowds of people, often in an open landscape was breathtaking.  There was often an element of humour in his paintings and warmth in the way his characters were depicted on his canvases.  In many of his works one could recognise the influence of the Bruegel family.

In 1651, David Teniers and his family moved to Brussels and besides carrying on his own art business he took up the post of court painter and the director of the art gallery of the Spanish governor-general, Archduke Leopold-Wilhelm.  If you look back to My Daily Art Display of January 18th you will see a painting Teniers completed entitled Archduke Leopold William in his Gallery at Brusselswhich precisely documented some of the famous works from the Archduke’s collection. Whilst looking after this vast collection Teniers made many small-scale individual copies of paintings in the Duke’s collection by foreign artists, especially the paintings of the Italian Masters. Of these, two hundred and forty-four were engraved in 1660 under the title Theatrum Pictorium. 

On the death of the Archduke Leopold-Wilhelm his successor, Don Jon of Austria continued to employ Teniers as court painter and in 1663 Teniers founded the Royal Academy of Fine Arts Antwerp which still exists and is one of the oldest of its kind in Europe.  David Teniers the Younger was a highly productive artist and when he died in 1690, he left more than two thousand works.  Most of the major galleries of the world exhibit a number of his works.  He was an extremely good businessman and was highly liked by the aristocracy.  Teniers knew the type of art the people liked and was very astute when it came to following the latest fashions and whims of his clients.   His art work covered numerous subjects from portraits and religious scenes to genre pictures and still-life paintings.  Teniers died at the age of seventy-nine in Brussels, five years after the death of his eldest son, David Teniers III.

The featured work for My Daily Art Display today is a painting David Teniers the Younger completed around 1650 and is entitled A Winter Scene with a Man Killing a Pig.  The painting is amazing.  It just glows in front of your eyes.  An art historian and contemporary of Teniers summed up the beauty of this painting when he wrote:

“…For the richness of his golden and silvery light, for the delicacy of his vivid colours there is only one word, and that word is ‘magical…”

Before us we see a winter landscape and in some ways reminiscent of Teniers’ wife’s grandfather, Pieter Brueghel’s work, Hunters in the Snow another winter landscape painting completed almost a hundred years earlier.  As well as being a landscape painting it is also a genre picture which does not offer us an idealized landscape, but instead provides us with a window for us to see real people getting on with their daily lives in a real setting.  Snow lies deep on the ground and by the looks of the dark clouds there is more snow to come.  Look how the artist depicts the rays of weak sunlight forcing their way through the clouds to light up the frosty winter scene.

Work on the farms almost came to a halt at wintertime giving time to the peasants to take the break from working the fields and well-earned time to sleigh and skate.  To the left of the painting we see some houses.  In front of the nearest house, a pig is about to be slaughtered.  Although we may cringe at the depiction of the killing it should be remembered that in Teniers time this would be a common practice.  It marked a time of celebration and we see emerging from the end house, a woman carrying a baby and an old man, dressed in black, leading out a young child so they could witness the scene.  The butcher kneels on the animal while a woman holds out a pan to collect the blood. Every part of the carcass will be used.  The children would be given the pig’s bladder so that they could blow it up and use it as a ball.  The skin, once the hair had been singed off it, would be used as a kind of leather, maybe for shoes.  The flesh from the large animal would provide meat for their meals all the way to Lent, at which time, the staple food would switch to fish until the end of the “fast” and the arrival of Easter.

So now you have seen an early twentieth century Canadian winter scene and a mid-seventeenth Dutch winter scene and I will let you choose which you prefer