Van der Neer's special interest in effects of light and atmosphere found an ideal subject in the winter landscape. Here the brilliant illumination of the sunset is diffused throughout the landscape by its reflection in the ice.
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Title:Sports on a Frozen River
Artist:Aert van der Neer (Dutch, Gorinchem 1603/4–1677 Amsterdam)
Date:probably ca. 1660
Medium:Oil on wood
Dimensions:9 1/8 x 13 3/4 in. (23.2 x 34.9 cm)
Credit Line:The Friedsam Collection, Bequest of Michael Friedsam, 1931
This small, delicately painted panel is a mature example of Van der Neer's ice-skating scenes, and probably dates from about 1660. In this luminous picture, the sun sets over one of Holland's inland waterways. The icy landscape is described mostly in tones of rose and gray. Houses crowd the shoreline at either side. The towers of two village churches mark the recession on the left, which terminates at an overscaled windmill. A small sailboat is moored by the simple, snow-traced crane at the left edge of the composition. A few of the scattered skaters practice colf, a game resembling golf.
The great majority of Van der Neer's wintertjes (little winter scenes), which number more than two hundred, depict figures on a frozen river or canal. These mostly panoramic compositions are structured by receding riverbanks and vertical accents, and in general recall the designs of Hendrick Avercamp (1585–1634) rather than those of the younger painters who were active in the area of Haarlem and Amsterdam. This conservatism is a legacy of Van der Neer's training in his native city of Gorinchem, which did not, however, discourage his describing optical effects such as the sun's reflection, shadows cast by boats, and the sense of light and space infusing cloudy skies. Especially impressive in this picture is the way in which the brilliance of the sunset is diffused throughout the landscape. These qualities may be considered the artist's main concern, whereas predecessors such as Avercamp usually concentrated on the figures. For Van der Neer, humanity seems to represent not so much society as another aspect of nature.
Some of the painter's winter scenes of the 1640s are dated, but very few later examples are inscribed with a year. The undated examples are difficult to place chronologically; they reveal a remarkable lack of repetition, and pentimenti suggesting much invention ad libitum. The Met’s picture, however, is consistent in style with a group of small skating scenes that date from the late 1650s and early 1660s.
[2017; adapted from Liedtke 2007]
Inscription: Signed (lower left): AVN [AV in monogram]
?P. Calkoen (until 1781; his sale, Amsterdam, September 10, 1781, no. 99, for 61 florins to Nijman); ?J. D. Nijman; Sir A. Robertson, Chatham, England; [Kleinberger, Paris and New York; sold to Friedsam]; Michael Friedsam, New York (by 1917–d. 1931)
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "The Michael Friedsam Collection," November 15, 1932–April 9, 1933, no catalogue.
University of California at Los Angeles. March 15–April 30, 1954.
Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center. June 15–July 31, 1955, no. ?
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "The Age of Rembrandt: Dutch Paintings in The Metropolitan Museum of Art," September 18, 2007–January 6, 2008, no catalogue.
Guy Pène du Bois. "Famous American Collections: The Collection of Mr. Michael Friedsam." Arts and Decoration 7 (June 1917), p. 402.
C[ornelis]. Hofstede de Groot. A Catalogue Raisonné of the Works of the Most Eminent Dutch Painters of the Seventeenth Century. Ed. Edward G. Hawke. Vol. 7, London, 1923, p. 453, no. 543, as "Winter Sports on a Broad Frozen River: Sunset," a panel, 8 1/2 x 13 1/2 in., in the P. Calkoen sale, Amsterdam, September 10, 1781, no. 99, sold for 61 florins to J. D. Nijman, possibly this picture.
Wilhelm R. Valentiner in The Michael Friedsam Collection. [completed 1928], p. 18, as "Winter Scene in Haarlem," signed AVDN, from the collection of Sir A. Robertson, Chatham, England.
"Friedsam Bequest to be Exhibited Next November." Art News 30 (January 2, 1932), p. 13, prints Bryson Burroughs's survey of the Friedsam paintings.
Josephine L. Allen and Elizabeth E. Gardner. A Concise Catalogue of the European Paintings in The Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York, 1954, p. 73.
Peter C. Sutton. A Guide to Dutch Art in America. Grand Rapids, Mich., 1986, p. 191, dates it about 1660.
Katharine Baetjer. European Paintings in The Metropolitan Museum of Art by Artists Born Before 1865: A Summary Catalogue. New York, 1995, p. 310, ill.
Walter Liedtke. Dutch Paintings in The Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York, 2007, vol. 1, pp. 510–11, no. 131, colorpl. 131.
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