Anthonie Verstralen

Winter landscape with skaters on a frozen river

Oil on panel: 8.1(h) x 10.6(w) in /

20.6(h) x 27(w) cm

Signed with monogram lower centre: AVS

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BS 336

 

ANTHONIE VERSTRALEN

Gorinchem (Gorkum) c.1593 – 1641 Amsterdam

 

Winter landscape with skaters on a frozen river

 

Signed with monogram lower centre: AVS;

inscribed lower left with the Newbattle Abbey inventory number: 431

Oil on panel: 8 1/8 x 10 5/8 in / 20.6 x 27 cm

Frame size: 15 x 12 ¾ in / 38.1 x 32.4 cm

 

Painted circa 1640

 

Provenance:

Probably acquired by William Kerr, 3rd Earl of Lothian (1605-75);

William Kerr, 3rd Marquess of Lothian (1690–1767);

by descent to Michael Kerr, 13th Marquess of Lothian (b.1945)

 

Literature:

Newbattle Abbey inventory, c.1726-27 (‘A picture of a winter piece with men & boys diverting themselves on the ice by Ostade’)

Newbattle Abbey inventory, 1752 (‘A Dutch piece of a frost… [£]2-2-0’)

Newbattle Abbey inventory, c. 1788 (‘Skating (on wood)’)

Newbattle Abbey inventory, March 1833, no. 431

Newbattle Abbey inventory, May 1878, no. 431 (Stairs)

C Hofstede de Groote, ‘Hollandsche Kunst in Schotland’, in Oud Holland, 11, 1893, p. 217

Monteviot House inventory, 14 July 1989, no.431 (Study)

 

Anthonie Verstralen was born in Gorinchem (Gorkum), east of Dordrecht, but probably trained in Amsterdam, where he married in 1628 and remained for the rest of his life. Little is known of his career, but he seems to have specialised exclusively in winter scenes influenced by the work of Esaias van de Velde (1587-1630) and especially by Hendrick Avercamp (1585-1634). In the first and second decades of the seventeenth century Avercamp had pioneered the theme of winter landscapes in the northern Netherlands, building on a tradition begun by Pieter Bruegel the Elder (c.1525-1569) and Jacob Grimmer (c.1525-1590). Whereas these Flemish painters often made winter landscapes in the context of sets of the Seasons or as a backdrop for Biblical events such as the Adoration of the Magi or the Massacre of the Innocents, Avercamp’s scenes of skating and frost fairs show a secular Dutch society enjoying the pleasures of winter. He began painting them, perhaps coincidentally, shortly before the Twelve Years’ Truce of 1609 effectively gave the Northern Netherlands independence from Spain.

The period from the mid-sixteenth to the mid-nineteenth century can be termed a ‘Little Ice Age’ in northern Europe, with especially hard winters in the first quarter of the seventeenth century. The Dutch made a virtue of necessity by becoming expert skaters, playing colf (the forerunner of golf and ice hockey) on the ice and even constructing ice yachts.

Verstralen’s Winter scene, like the paintings of Avercamp, is essentially a cheerful celebration of winter pastimes enjoyed by all levels of Dutch society. He is careful to place his figures with plenty of space around them, enhancing the feeling of vastness and winter chill, and also creating lively silhouettes. His figures are painted with brush point in a rapid, calligraphic style, which allows him to express details of movement and gesture even in far-off figures. The comic juxtaposition of a very tall and very short man conversing at the left of the painting, accompanied by a shivering greyhound, is typical of his witty observation.

Also characteristic of Verstralen are the slender, sinuous trees which frame the scene to the left and provide accents along either side of the riverbank. The low horizon increases the impact of the huge sky with its winter shades of yellow, grey, cream and white. The distant landscape captures the hazy atmosphere and stinging cold of a northern winter’s day. The costume of the figures suggests a date of circa 1640; the painting can be compared to a winter scene on a similar scale, dated 1641 (private collection)[1].

 

Note on the provenance

This painting has descended in the collection of the Marquesses of Lothian since at least the early eighteenth century. It first appears in an inventory of c.1725 of the contents of Newbattle Abbey, Midlothian, the seventeenth century seat of the Kerrs built around a twelfth century Cistercian abbey. The painting was then thought to be by Isaac van Ostade. It was probably acquired by William Kerr, 3rd Earl of Lothian (1605-1675) not long after it was painted. Kerr had made a Grand Tour to Italy in 1624-5, but only began collecting art in earnest in 1643, on a political mission to France during the English Civil War, in which he supported the Parliamentary side. In Paris he encountered the Scottish merchant John Clerk (1611-1679), who became his art agent. Kerr favoured small, exquisite Dutch cabinet paintings: the Verstralen would fit perfectly with this taste. His collection of 300 paintings included three works by Hendrik van Steenwijk and a great number of portraits. Kerr gained great pleasure from his picture cabinet, writing to Clerk in 1643 that it was ‘that place when I am att Home intertains me most’[2].  

ANTONIE VERSTRALEN

Gorinchem (Gorkum) c.1593 – 1641 Amsterdam

 

Little is known of Verstralen’s life, save for the year and place of his birth documented in his entry in the Amsterdam marriage registry, which records that Anthonie Verstralen, ‘coming from Gorkum, thirty-seven years old, painter, living in the Coninxstraat’, was married on 11th November 1628 to Magdalena Bosijn. He was buried in Amsterdam on 10th April 1641.

Verstralen was an early practitioner of winter landscapes in the tradition of Hendrick Avercamp (1588-1634), who first perfected this genre. Verstralen often painted frozen rivers with a broad expanse of ice in the foreground, stretching away to a distant central horizon. The staffage usually includes skaters, notably kolf players (the seventeenth century predecessor of both hockey and golf), children at play, as well as working folk drawing home firewood and supplies. The figures form silhouettes on the ice flanked by tall, leafless trees on the banks.

Verstralen dated paintings from the late 1620s to 1641, the last year of his life. He seems to have been one of the first generation of Hendrick Avercamp’s followers who became specialists in winter landscapes. The latter included Avercamp’s nephew Barent Avercamp (1612/13-1679), Arent Arentsz., called Cabel (1585/86-1631) and Adam van Breen (active c.1611-1646). However, the fluidity and relatively slender proportions of Verstralen’s figures attest more than the other followers to his admiration for Hendrick Avercamp’s early work, as well as for the earliest winter scenes of Adriaen van de Venne (1589-1662). Verstralen’s oeuvre was substantially completed before either Aert van der Neer (1603/4-1677) or Jan van de Cappelle (1626-1679) advanced their more atmospheric approach to winter landscapes. 

The work of Anthonie Verstralen is represented in the Mauritshuis, The Hague; the Hermitage, St Petersburg and the Rothschild Collection, Ascott House.

 

 

[1] Christie’s London, 3rd December 1997, lot 122.

[2] Letter of 14th September 1643 from Paris.

Old MasterAnthonie Verstralen