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Adam van Breen, 1611

Skating on the Frozen Amstel River (1611) by Adam van Breen (c. 1585 - 1640)

Winter is the most frequently represented season in Dutch seventeenth-century art. One of the finest artists to paint winter scenes was Hendrick Avercamp (1585–1634), whose depictions of young and old, rich and poor populating frozen waterways were recently featured in an exhibition at the National Gallery of Art. However, Avercamp was neither the first nor the only Dutch artist to paint this type of winter scene. While the exhibition of his paintings and drawings filled the walls of the Dutch Cabinet Galleries, the Gallery’s permanent collection was enriched with a delightful winter scene by one of his contemporaries, Adam van Breen’s Skating on the Frozen Amstel River (1611).

Much like Avercamp, Van Breen depicted Dutch citizens enjoying a bright wintery day, capturing the excitement when the ice was finally strong enough to welcome skaters. In the foreground are elegant figures dressed in vibrantly colored clothes preparing to skate, while others happily glide into the distance, along the smooth surface of the frozen river. Characteristic of these paintings are the many anecdotes that are illustrated, for example a young boy who propels himself on his prikslee (a small push-sled); an ice boat under full sail; and an orphan from the Burgerweeshuis (City Orphanage) of Amsterdam, recognizable by his half-red, half-black costume, carrying a kolf-stick over his shoulder. Occasionally accidents occur, as in the middle distance where two figures are sprawled on the ice.

This particular painting is unusual in the geographical accuracy of the buildings. Instead of an imaginary city, the artist staged the figures against the profile of Amsterdam. The view is along the river Amstel, just south of that city. The church spires punctuating the city’s profile are those of the Nieuwe Kerk, the Oude Kerk, and the nearest, the Zuiderkerk. The Zuiderkerk was built between 1603 and 1611, and this painting is the first depiction of this newly constructed Protestant church.

Little is known about Van Breen’s origins or his artistic training. His small surviving oeuvre consists mostly of winter landscapes, similar to those painted by Avercamp. Both artists may have studied in Amsterdam with David Vinckboons (1576–1633). Van Breen later moved to The Hague, where he married before he returned to Amsterdam. Eventually, he immigrated to Norway where he worked for King Christian IV. This beautifully executed and topographically interesting painting is one of his earliest known works and the earliest Dutch seventeenth-century painting in the Gallery’s collection.

Oil on panel. Overall: 65 x 43 cm; framed 55,88 x 78,74 x 5,08 cm

Provenance
(John Mitchell Fine Paintings, London); purchased 12 March 2010 by National Gallery of Art, Washington DC

Rights
The Lee and Juliet Folger Fund, in honor of Arthur K. Wheelock, Jr.

National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C. (2010.20.1): West Building, Main Floor - Galery 50A

Source: Do Smit


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