Thence by descent to Henry Trueman Mills (1860-1933), Hilborough Hall, Norfolk;
By inheritance to his nephew Major John Charles Trueman Mills (1900-1987), Hilborough Hall, Norfolk (included in his manuscript catalogue compiled by the Courtauld Institute in 1955, as no. 20);
By whom sold (ex-catalogue added lot, consigned by Mrs Charles Mills), London, Sotheby’s, 9 July 1975, lot 71A, for £110,000 to Brod;
With Alfred Brod, London;
Robert Smith, Arlington, Virginia, acquired in 1979;
Acquired from the above after 1991 by Robert Noortman, Maastricht;
By whom sold to the late father of the present owner.
Madrid, Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, The Golden Age of Dutch Landscape Painting, 1994, no. 39;
The Hague, Mauritshuis, Holland Frozen in Time. The Dutch Winter Landscape in the Golden Age, 24 November 2001 - 25 February 2002, no. 16.
B. Broos, Great Dutch Paintings from America, exhibition catalogue, Zwolle 1990, pp. 351 – 354, no. 46, reproduced in colour;
P.C. Sutton, The Golden Age of Dutch Landscape Painting, exhibition catalogue, Madrid 1994, pp. 36, 152-3, no. 39, reproduced in colour;
A. Van Suchtelen, Holland Frozen in Time. The Dutch Winter Landscape in the Golden Age, exhibition catalogue, Zwolle 2001, pp. 104-5, 162, no. 16, reproduced in colour;
W. Schulz, Aert van der Neer, Doornspijk 2002, p. 151, reproduced in colour plate 4.
As has often been observed, Aert van der Neer revived the tradition of winter landscape painting established by Hendrick Avercamp at the beginning of the 17th Century. Starting at the very beginning of the 1640s, he was the first painter to explore the genre in depth and to adapt it to the advances in landscape painting made from the mid-1620s onwards, in which Avercamp took no part. The present picture, painted in muted tones of grey and brown, may be read as a transposition of the tonal landscapes of Van Goyen and others of the later 1630s and 40s, but the atmospheric conditions of a very cold still winter’s day are a far remove from the moisture-laden windy settings of Van Goyen’s work, which call for soft brushwork. Van der Neer has avoided the temptation to make the frozen river reflect the silvery-grey of the sky: this is a yellow-brown peaty river, and its earthy tone is closer to the plaster and brick of the buildings than to the sky. Like Avercamp in his mature phase, Aert van der Neer here captures the mistiness of the frozen atmosphere, so the distant buildings, trees and boats are softly modelled. Van der Neer’s subtle response to the nuanced hues of winter was, as Peter Sutton observed of this picture, unsurpassed.5 They “run to subtle yellow, brown and russet colours with shades of grey.”
Van der Neer uses a relatively high viewpoint, set back from the foreground, to include a multitude of figures on the frozen river. Four men in the foreground are playing kolf, and one of these has fallen over on the ice, losing his hat in the process. A couple skating past have turned to look at his misfortune. A simple horse-drawn box-bodied bakslee with two passengers hunched against the cold has just left the landing stage to the left, while a more elegant arreslee with its more elegantly dressed occupants pulled by a plumed white horse approaches, the slee-bestuurder waving his whip in the air.
Much has been written about the Little Ice Age, and its influence on Netherlandish painting from Pieter Bruegel the Elder to the latter part of the 17th Century. While the colder winters experienced in Northern Europe during that span of time surely provided painters such as Aert van der Neer with a rich seam of subject matter, the aesthetic appeal of an icy but still winter’s day, especially where skaters and other figures are out and about as they usually are in Dutch winter landscapes before Jacob van Ruisdael’s interpretations of the darker side of extremely cold weather, is surely universal, and not predicated on climate-change.
John Remington Mills was one of two sons of Samuel Mills (d 1847) of Russell Square. Both sons bought country estates. Thomas Mills, barrister and MP, bought Tolmers in Hertfordshire (which his brother inherited) and John Remington Mills bought the Hilborough and Clermont Estates at Little Cressingham in Norfolk (the former from the Duke of Wellington), retaining property and business interests in London and elsewhere. His grandson Henry Trueman Mills bequeathed Hilborough and its contents to his nephew, Major J.C.T. Mills in 1933 (fig. 2). In 1955 the Courtauld Institute conducted a photographic survey of the collection and compiled a brief manuscript catalogue, copies of which are preserved in the Courtauld Institute in London and the RKD in The Hague. As with so many Norfolk collections, there was a strong bias towards the Dutch and Flemish Schools. Ben Broos was probably over-harsh in suggesting that several of the attributions were optimistic, since the Mills collection contained a number of choice Dutch 17th Century pictures, a Jan Steen of The Milkman, which fetched £88,000 in the 1975 sale, an early Jacob van Ruisdael landscape, an early Philips Wouwerman, a Paulus Potter of 1647 and two Willem van de Veldes.6 Little is known about the history of the Mills collection, and no paintings were published as belonging to it or lent to exhibitions until Major Mills' ownership in the 1930s, but the Jan Steen was acquired by John Remington Mills at the D. Mackintosh sale in London in 1857, and the Ruisdael also belonged to him, so it seems likely that the formation of the collection was largely due to him. He seems to have had a penchant for Dutch paintings from the middle of the 17th Century: the present painting is of circa 1645, the Ruisdael from 1666, the Potter dates from 1647, the Wouwerman from 1649, and the Steen from the mid-1650s. A pair of Canaletto views of Venice at Hilborough in 1955 were also John Remington Mills purchases.7
1. See Broos, under Literature, p. 354.
2. See Sutton, under Literature, p. 152. Washington, Corcoran Gallery of Art, inv. 26-148, double monogrammed and dated lower left: 1645, oil on oak panel, 54.5 by 70 cm.; see Schulz, under Literature, p. 142, no. 59, reproduced ill. 7.
3. See under Literature: Van Suchtelen, no. 16; Schulz, p. 151.
4. Whereabouts unknown; see Schulz, op, cit, p. 183, cat. no. 200, reproduced plate 5.
5. Sutton, op. cit., p. 152.
6. See Broos, op. cit., p. 351. The Steen and Ruisdael were lots 71 B & C in the 1975 sale. For the Jan Steen, see W.T. Kloek, in H. Perry Chapman, W.T. Kloek & A.K. Wheelock, Jr., Jan Steen. Painter and Storyteller, exhibition catalogue, New Haven & London 1996, p. 124, under no.8, reproduced fig. 3. For the Ruisdael, see S. Slive, Jacob van Ruisdael. A Complete Catalogue of His Paintings, Drawings and Etchings, New Haven & London 2001, p. 151, no. 135, reproduced. for the Wouwerman see B. Schumacher, Philips Wouwerman (1619-1668), Doornspijk 2006, vol. 1, p. 327, no. A397, reproduced vol. 2 plate 368 and colour plate 53.
7. See W.G. Constable (ed. J.G. Links), Canaletto, Oxford 1989, pp. 229, 292, nos. 92a and 220a, the former as of "mechanical handling", the latter as autograph.
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