A Winter Landscape with Skaters and Figures with Sledges on the Ice and a Windmill in the Distance
Isack van Ostade
Signed and indistinctly dated, lower right: Isack van Ostade 164..
On panel, 15¼ x 23¼ ins. (39 x 59.2 cm)
Possibly Lord Lonsdale by repute
Behr sale, Belbing, Munich, 27-28 June, 1933
Sale, Graupe, Berlin, 27-29 May, 1935
F. Drey, London, 1945
Joseph Forgacs, Esq., 2 Peek Crescent, London. SW19
Anon. sale, Sotheby’s, London, 13 February, 1946, lot 43 (£400), where purchased by A. Welker, London
Sten Grönblom, Helsinki, Finland, until 2004 (apparently purchased
in the 1950s for $2,800)
With Johnny Van Haeften Limited, 2004
Private Collection, Texas
Isack van Ostade was the most gifted pupil of his brother, Adriaen van Ostade, and had he lived longer may well have surpassed Adriaen’s achievements. Despite a career spanning only one decade, Isack van Ostade can be regarded as one of the outstanding innovators of Dutch low-life and landscape painting. His early peasant interiors are strongly indebted to the work of his brother, but he swiftly developed a distinctive manner of his own.
Around 1642-1643, Ostade’s style and subject-matter underwent a marked transformation. Inspired by the Dutch Italianate painter Pieter van Laer, Isack gave up painting interiors in favour of outdoor scenes which combine landscape and genre elements. At the same time, he abandoned the dark colouring and loose brushwork which characterised his early oeuvre, adopting a more delicate, detailed technique and lighter overall tonality. Isack treated a wide range of subjects, drawn mainly from peasant life, often focusing upon the activities of country folk outside a rustic cottage, or travellers halting before a roadside inn. Winter landscapes, featuring the lively traffic on or beside a frozen waterway, also became a favourite theme. He was particularly adept at capturing the mood of the season, using a silvery or golden light to evoke the warmth of summer, or the damp, chilly atmosphere of winter. His oeuvre includes both small-scale oils on panel, with relatively few figures and larger, more ambitious, multi-figured compositions on canvas.
This panel exemplifies Isack’s more intimately conceived winter scenes that depict the seasonal pursuits of ordinary folk. The scene of bustling activity takes place on a frozen river close to a country village. No snow has fallen, but black clouds threaten overhead. Men, women and children have braved the cold and taken to the ice. A ragged-looking fellow speeds by at close quarters, pushing a laden sledge, while another man kneels on the ice to tie on his blades: his dog stands patiently by. Behind them are more skaters, two small children quarrelling over a kolf stick and a sleigh drawn by an old grey nag. To the right, a broad expanse of ice extends to the far horizon. The outlines of skating figures, and a distant church and a windmill are silhouetted against the sky. The whole scene is rendered in very fluid and vigorous brushstrokes. The palette, mostly in tones of brown and grey, with accents in pale red, yellow, blue and green, captures the chill atmosphere of a cold winter’s day.
Dated winter landscapes by Isack van Ostade are known for the years between 1642 and 1647 (i). The earliest examples employ a monochromatic colour scheme and broad, sketchy technique, reminiscent of Jan van Goyen, but from the mid-1640s the artist developed a more precise manner and a richer palette. The present painting bears a date, but the last digit is difficult to read: it could be a 7, or alternatively a 3. In view of its fairly tonal colour scheme and broad handling of paint, the earlier date would seem more likely, besides which it can be favourably compared with dated examples from that year, for instance, a winter landscape sold at Sotheby’s, in London, on 30 June 1971 (ii). As in most of Ostade’s winter landscapes, the composition here conforms to a more or less standard diagonal scheme. The broad body of frozen water retreats gently from left to right, extending eventually to the low horizon. Also typical of Ostade’s winter landscapes is the repoussoir motif of a darkened twisted tree trunk and a fisherman’s creel in the right foreground which enhances the spatial recession. The very low vantage point has the effect of bringing the viewer close to the scene of action.
Baptised in Haarlem on 2 June, 1621, Isack Jansz. van Ostade was the
youngest child of a linen weaver, Jan Hendricks van Ostade from
Eindhoven and Janneke Hendriksdr. from Woensel. According to Houbraken
(iii), he was a pupil of his older brother Adriaen (1610-1685). Isack’s
early landscape studies suggest that he received additional instruction
from a landscape painter, possibly Salomon van Ruysdael, who sued
Adriaen van Ostade in 1640 for ‘sums due for board and tuition’ (iv).
His earliest dated painting is of 1639, although he did not enter the
Haarlem guild until 1643. His name appeared in the guild records again
that year, when the council arbitrated his three-year dispute with the
Rotterdam dealer Leendert Hendricksen concerning payment for and
delivery of paintings. Ostade continued to live in Haarlem until his
untimely death at the age of twenty-eight. He was buried in St. Bavo’s
Church on 16 October 1649. Isack was also a skilled draughtsman who
left a significant body of drawings, mostly in pen and ink, with our
without wash. Despite his brief career, Isack exerted a considerable
influence on contemporary artists including Claes Molenaer, Cornelis
Decker, Roelof van Vries, Jan Wijnants and Gerrit van Hees.
i Wolfgang Stechow, Dutch Landscape Painting of the seventeenth century, 1966, p. 90.
ii Isack van Ostade, A Winter Landscape, 25 ½ x 37 ½ ins., Sotheby’s, London, 30 June 1971, lot 112.
iii Arnold Houbraken, De Groote Schouburgh… , 1718-21, vol. I, p. 347.
iv The Grove Dictionary of Art. Article by B. Schnackenburg on Isack van Ostade.
Isack van Ostade
1621 – Haarlem – 1649
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