Pencil, pen and ink and bodycolour on paper.
93 x 155 mm (3 ⅔ x 6 ⅛ in.)
Sold to the J. Paul Getty Museum, Malibu.
PROVENANCE: Christie’s Sale, 7th July, 1959, lot 14; Private collection, England; Thence by descent in the family.
Known by his contemporaries as “de Stomme van Kampen” Hendrick Avercamp was born deaf and mute in Amsterdam in 1585 at a house situated next to the Nieuwe Kerk. A year later the family moved to Kampen, a quiet town on the eastern shore of the Zuider Zee. The artist returned to Amsterdam to study with the Danish portrait and historical painter, Pieter Isaacks but, by January 1614, he was back in Kampen, where he remained until his death in 1634. Whilst in Amsterdam, Avercamp came into contact with the work of contemporary Flemish painters, most notably the mannerist landscapes of Gillis van Conixloo and David Vinckboons. His earliest works, however, demonstrate an individual style, and one that is more strongly associated with the work of the lesser Kampen artist, Gerrit van der Horst. The most famous protagonist of the winter landscape, Avercamp specialised in scenes executed in a predominantly narrative style, filled with intricate and carefully observed detail. A delightful example of his daring and witty anecdotes can be seen in the Winter Landscape with Iceskaters, 1608, now in the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam, where we see a couple making love, the rendering of bare buttocks and a man urinating in the snow. Avercamp was an accomplished and prolific draughtsman. When composing these winter scenes, he drew on a large supply of rapidly executed sketches of individual figures drawn from life; these preliminary drawings also served for composing more developed coloured drawings back at his studio. Avercamp’s method was to first draw the contours of the figures in pen and then fill the intervening space with watercolour and bodycolour. Although the use of watercolour and gouache was not innovative – Jan Breughel the Elder, Jacob Savery and Hans Bol all used this media – Avercamp was, however, one of the first Dutch draughtsmen to develop this technique specifically as a separate, independent art form. His pen drawings, heightened with watercolour, were so carefully finished and richly detailed that they were highly sought after by connoisseurs, and kept, not in albums, but glued to panels and framed as independent works of art.
Given the rarity of Avercamp’s extant drawings, the present sheet is quite unique. It is a typical example of his busy winter scenes, full of lively figures enjoying the seasonal pursuits of skating and sledging. The two figures in the foreground playing kolf1 against a pale wintry sky, observed by a spectator, recur in a number of other paintings by the artist, such as the Winterlandscape, now in a private collection, and Skating on Ice, Allegedly near Kampen, dated 1620, also in a private collection2. In both style and composition, this exquisite drawing is similar to the latter picture, and perhaps belongs to the same period, that of 1615 – 1620. Avercamp rarely dated his paintings; his early works are characterised by a high viewpoint, a colourful but light palette and by the positioning of either trees or architecture as a compositional device to create balance. In later works, however, atmosphere becomes more important; the viewpoint is lowered, the trees become less prominent and the artist concentrates on the meticulous rendering of the figures, vividly coloured in the foreground and lightened as they recede into the distance. In this example, by carefully placing pinks, reds, blacks, whites and touches of yellow, Avercamp applies his refined sense of colour to create delicate and subtle effects.
- Kolf is a sport in which the ball is struck with a kolf stick (a cross between a golf club and a hockey stick). The object is to hit the poles on the kolf pitch. Kolf was played both on land and on ice. For centuries, it was as popular in the Low Countries as football is today.
- Albert Blankert, Doortje Hensbroek-vander Poel, Georges Keyes, Rudolph Krudop and Willem van de Watering, Heindrick Avercamp, Barent Avercamp, Frozen Silence, Paintings from Museums and Private Collections, K & V Waterman B.V., Rokin 116, Amsterdam 1982. Nos 10 and 12.