Klaes Molenaer

A winter landscape with figures gathered on a frozen waterway outside a town

Oil on canvas: 16.5(h) x 20.2(w) in /

41.9(h) x 51.4(w) cm


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SP 4691



Circa 1630 – Haarlem – 1676


A winter landscape with figures gathered on a frozen waterway outside a town


Signed lower left: K.Molenaer

Oil on canvas: 16 ½ x 20 ¼ in / 41.9 x 51.4 cm

Frame size: 23 ½ x 27 in / 59.7 x 68.6 cm



Private collection, Europe



Klaes Molenaer spent all his life in Haarlem, a city grown rich on brewing, shipbuilding and textiles, which became a magnet for artists. He was influenced by his near-contemporary, Haarlem-born Jacob van Ruisdael (1628/9-1682), arguably the greatest landscape painter of the seventeenth century, and by the meteorically brilliant but short-lived Isaac van Ostade (1621-1649), another son of the city.


Molenaer specialized in scenes of rural life in summer and winter; this painting is a fine and typical example of the latter. Europe experienced a ‘little ice age’ in the first quarter of the seventeenth century, inspiring the sublime winter landscapes of Hendrik Avercamp (1585-1634). Molenaer’s painting of the challenges and pleasures of winter follows in this tradition, as do the haunting winter scenes of van Ruisdael and the more cheerful ones of Isaac van Ostade.


Here Molenaer depicts the edge of a fortified Dutch town with a gateway, wall and medieval turrets, such as survive in towns like Maastricht or Dordrecht today. It is a reminder that the flat (and difficult to defend) landscape of the Netherlands had been disputed territory for hundreds of years. Indeed, only as Molenaer reached manhood did the Eighty Years’ War between the Dutch and the Spanish end with the Peace of Westphalia in 1648. Townsfolk are gathered outside their city walls, on the edge of a frozen waterway, gossiping, skating and going about their business. In the left foreground, a man is packing parcels on a hand-drawn sled, an easy way to deliver goods when the ice was thick. In the right middle ground, a shivering horse prepares to transport a couple in a capacious sleigh. In the right distance, skaters canting this way and that push vigorously into the haze of winter sunset, swallowed up in the frosty vapour filling the space between the vast expanse of ice and the snow-laden clouds.


The eerie silence of wintry nature contrasts with the cosy, bustling huddle of the townsfolk under their comforting walls. Instead of the blue, grey, silvery and white tones of the distant landscape, Molenaer’s foreground is filled with a jumble of colourful clothes that moves the eye among the people: ochre, yellow, red, brown and sky blue. A graceful white horse with a yellow blanket forms a focus of the painting, a device also often used by Isaac van Ostade. Winters were hard in the seventeenth century, but the season was also a time for community fun, such as the ‘frost fairs’ held on the ice (including the IJ in Amsterdam and the Thames in London) and the sledding and skating in this picture.


Circa 1630 – Haarlem – 1676



Klaes Molenaer spent his whole life in Haarlem. He was a landscape and genre painter belonging to the wider circle of Jacob van Ruisdael (1628/9-1682), his Haarlem-born near-contemporary who became the one of greatest and most influential landscape painters of the seventeenth century. Molenaer’s work is also close to the paintings of Roelof van Vries (c.1631-1681) and Cornelis Decker (before 1643-1678), who was a pupil of Ruisdael.


Molenaer specialized in compositions with farms on tree-lined river banks, populated by washerwomen and anglers, and winter scenes with skaters on frozen waterways at the edge of towns. He was influenced by the winter scenes of Jacob van Ruisdael (though Molenaer’s work lacks the haunting intensity of Ruisdael’s winter views) and by the brilliant but short-lived Haarlem painter Isaac van Ostade (1621-1649). A favourite motif of Ostade, a white horse which provides a focus for the centre of a composition, is also found in Molenaer’s work.   


The work of Klaes Molenaer is represented in the National Gallery, London; the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge; Manchester City Art Gallery; Indianapolis Museum of Art, Indiana; the Crocker Art Museum, Sacramento, CA and Olomouc Museum, Olomouc, Czech Republic.

Old MasterKlaes Molenaer