PROPERTY FROM A PRIVATE COLLECTION
The 1640s, and in particular the latter part of the decade, were an incredibly creative time in van Goyen's career. The pictures from this period are atmospheric in every sense of the word. He focused his energies on capturing highly subtle and varied effects of the weather at various times of day, how those effects changed the colors within his paintings. In these later works, clouds take on an ever increasing importance, becoming central characters in van Goyen's compositions. Furthermore, they are vehicles for the evocation of mood. Here, a swath of silvery storm clouds pass over a frozen river, while patches of crystalline blue peek into the scene, suggesting the passing of a rough period of weather. The importance of the sky and its changing effects is further enhanced by van Goyen's choice to employ an upright compositional format. The use of upright panels appears to have been reserved for only select works, as Beck lists only three other Hochformat, or vertical, winter scenes.1 Below this impressive sky, skaters and sledders go about their leisurely activities on the frozen river below beside a tall wooden jetty, unperturbed by any suggestion of a storm, and fully comfortable in the eccentricities of their native weather patterns.
At this moment in his career van Goyen demonstrates a confident virtuosity in his paint application. As is most apparent here in the massive expanse of clouds, he applies the paint with a thickly loaded brush, while the details of the boats, wooden tower in the immediate foreground, and in particular the distant town on the horizon, are as much drawn with the brush as painted. Van Goyen creates these elements with rapid strokes, lending a lightness and vivacity of movement to them, reminiscent of the reed pen of Rembrandt in his landscape drawings.
Of all the pictures which van Goyen executed in 1646, only three, including the present picture, are winter scenes. The two other works, one formerly in the Fondation Custodia, Paris, and the other formerly with Edward Speelman, London, are both of larger horizontal format in comparison with the present work.2 To a greater extent, the winter landscape was clearly one of van Goyen's more specialized sub-genres; only a small percentage of autograph pictures of his entire oeuvre are characterized by Beck as winter landscape.3
1. Beck 1973, op. cit, cat. nos. 27-30a.
2. Ibid. cat. nos. 74-75.
3. Ibid. cat. nos. 1-98a.
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