Winter Scenes from Hendrick Avercamp

This year, Albany’s winter has been unseasonably warm. It’s almost the end of February, but the school has never been cancelled due to the snowstorm. The snow actually came pretty early (on October 30th, when trees still even have their leaves). But other than the three or four days with couple of hours of snow, it has been pretty quiet. No more mountains of snow at the sides of the road, which used to be the normal sight starting from December to March.

Icicle from my bedroom's window, last year. This year? I haven't seen any.

Things seemed to be different in Holland. Some weeks ago the nature provided them with lots of ice, enough to make them consider having the Elfstedentocht or the eleven-city marathon. The last marathon took place in 1997 with over 16,000 people participating! Too bad this year it was cancelled because  some parts of the course didn’t have the required thickness of ice (it has to be at least 15 centimeters/6 inch thick).

Still, from Facebook photos and blog posts I can see that my Dutch friends were having fun ice skating on canals and ponds. Their photographs actually reminds me a lot to the paintings by Hendrick Avercamp, a 17th-century Dutch painter. Avercamp’s specialization was winter landscapes, and his paintings often feature people ice skating on frozen lakes. He was probably the one who established winter scenes as a genre.

Avercamp was a person with disability – he was known as de Stomme van Kampen (the mute of Kampen). But many people said that perhaps it was  due to his disability that he was able to observe his surroundings thoroughly and thus paint with such a great narrative.

Hendrick Avercamp's Ice Scene (Mauritshuis, The Hague)

I first learned about his paintings during our Research Methodology class. One small assignment was for us to go to Mauritshuis museum (with a paid ticket!) to do some observation on certain paintings, including Avercamp’s. All we need to do was to jot down as much as observations. Avercamp’s was one of my favorite since you can observe so many things from just a single painting; people golfing, playing, skating, watching, talking, working, gossiping… a community brought together to enjoy the free activities. And oh, did I mention that Avercamp also has a humorous touch? Look at one of the fallen skaters. It was a lady without any undies 🙂

Ice skating (schaatsen) is an extremely popular sport in the Netherlands. Hendrick Avercamp’s paintings tell us just how timeless this celebration of winter delight is.

Image credit for Hendrick Avercamp’s Ice Scene: WebMuseum, Paris.


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