Adriaen Pietersz. van de Venne
- Adriaen Pietersz. van de Venne
- Winter landscape with elegant figures on the ice before a town
- signed in monogram lower left: AVV and bears signature lower centre: BRUEGHEL
- oil on panel
Acquired from the above by the father of the late owner;
Thence by descent to the present owner, a Foundation.
The little cabinet panel was painted in Middleburg, where Van de Venne had been resident since at least 1614 and perhaps as early as 1608. It forms one of a small number of winter landscapes that he painted there before his departure for The Hague in 1624. In size and format it can be closely compared to the winter landscape of 1615 in the Worcester Art Museum, and was very probably painted at around the same date (fig. 1).1 Both tiny panels are composed very much according to Flemish models, with the left of the composition anchored by trees, leading to a more expansive diagonally receding landscape on the right, populated by numerous figures, sleighs and very similar tall buildings. Such landscapes were composed singly but also in pairs with a summer scene. Good examples, dated 1614 and of slightly larger format, are in the Gemäldegalerie in Berlin, and a small pair of circular panels survive in a German private collection, but no individual summer landscape is known which may have formed a pendant to the present work.2 Not all the winter landscapes were painted on such a minute scale; the largest and probably the finest example, that sold in these Rooms 4 July 2005, lot 25, was painted in 1620 on a panel over a metre wide.3 It is possible that Van de Venne may have been aware of the landscapes of Jan Brueghel the Elder being painted in Antwerp, and indeed this panel still bears a false signature of the latter accorded it by an optimistic former owner, who had failed to notice its true monogram.
This panel is typically distinguished by the extraordinary characterisation that Van de Venne brings to the figures in all his landscapes, and which sets him apart from his contemporaries in Middleburg and elsewhere. As seems to have been his custom, many are evidently portraits of his contemporaries, though few can specifically be identified. In the left foreground here we see a man standing shivering in the cold with his arms wrapped closely about him. His prominence suggests that he is indeed a portrait and may have been a patron or friend of the painter. Behind him are two equally cold and well observed little boys with their dogs. The boy on the right, wearing a hat, appears earlier in the Protestant foreground of Van de Venne’s most famous painting, the Fishing for Souls of 1614 in the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam.4 Behind him, huddled together shivering under the trees at the edge of the frozen river are a group of townsfolk, no doubt awaiting one of the ordinary sleighs driven by a carter such as that on the far right, which served as a form of public transport, while the more elegant aristocratic sleighs pass by. Most of us will be entirely familiar – and sympathise – with their predicament.
1. L. J. Bol, Adriaen Pietersz. Van de Venne. Painter and Draughtsman, Doornspijk 1989, pp. 18–20, reproduced fig. 5.
2. Bol, op. cit., pp. 13–14, 16–17, reproduced figs 3–4, 5a and 5b.
3. Panel, 75 by 114.5 cm., signed and dated 1620. £1,150,000.
4. Bol, op. cit., pp. 34–41, reproduced fig. 20 and detail fig. 23.