Aert van der Neer

Gorinchem? c. 1603/04 – 1677 Amsterdam

Skaters and 'Kolf' Players on a frozen Waterway

Signed with monogram, lower right: AV DN
Oil on panel, 13¼ x 19¼ ins (33.6 x 49 cm)
CS0416

Provenance

Arnoud van den Lennep
His deceased sale, Amsterdam, 24 July 1792, as lot 67
Henry, 3rd Marquess of Lansdowne (1780-1863), Bowood House, and by descent to:
Henry, 6th Marquess of Lansdowne (1872-1936), to
Lady Nairne, London
With Agnew’s, London, by 1991
Anonymous sale,Christie's, London, 8 December 1995, as lot no. 21 ‘collection of a Noblewoman’ (withdrawn)
Private collection, Scotland, 1995-2013
WithJohnny van Haeften Ltd., London, by whom exhibited at TEFAF, Maastricht 2013, where acquired by the present owner
Private collection, The Netherlands, 2013-2022 

Literature

G. E. Ambrose, Catalogue of the Collection of Pictures Belonging to the Marquess of Lansdowne, K.G., at Lansdowne House, London and Bowood, Wiltshire. London, 1897, pp.70-71, no. 107
C. Hofstede de Groot, A catalogue raisonné of the works of the most eminent Dutch painters of the seventeenth century. London, 1923, Vol VII, p. 411, no. 489 and p. 454, no. 547 (“Bright and masterly in style”)
W. Schulz, Aert van der Neer. Doornspijk, 2002, p. 188, no. 223 (as whereabouts unknown);
C. T. Seifert, ‘On slippery Ground: Kolf in the Art of the Dutch Golden Age’ In: The Art of Golf, High Museum of Art, Atlanta, 2002, pp. 23-24, ill. 3


Exhibited

On loan to the National Galleries of Scotland, Edinburgh, 1996 – 2012
The Art of Golf, The High Museum of Art, Atlanta, Georgia (February – June 2012), The Oklahoma City Museum of Arts, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma (July – October 2012), Museum of Fine Arts, St Petersburg, Florida (November 2012 – February 2013)


Essay

Dated by Schulz in the second half of the 1660s[i], the present picture is arguably amongst the best works within the mature winter landscapes by Van de Neer. The artist was already in his thirties when he began to include winter scenes in his repertoire, no doubt in response to the growing popularity of the theme and to compete with the increasing number of artists who addressed it. In the present work, Van de Neer chose a relatively low horizon, giving greater emphasis to the atmospheric rendering of a bright blustery sky. The present picture is an excellent example of Van der Neer's mature winter scenes that adopt an increasingly limited, earthen palette, in keeping with the monochrome tradition.

In his extensive catalogue raisonné on leading masters from the Golden Age, London 1923, Hofstede de Groot lauds the present picture as “bright and masterly in style”. Schulz saw the picture in 1984 when it was in the collection of Lady Nairne, in London, in a heavily overpainted condition. In his catalogue raisonné, Doornspijk 2002, he lists it as being in poor condition. However, in 2013, having inspected the picture at first hand, he was “happily surprised” to find it in such a good condition. It therefore seems plausible to assume that excessive restoration was conducted at some point between the 1920s and 1980s, which was later corrected after when the picture was restored to its present condition. In any event, the present picture is an important addition to Van der Neer’s late mature period. The farm on the left also occurs in reverse on the right side of another landscape by Van der Neer[ii].

Winter scenes were a particularly popular theme for Dutch painters of the seventeenth century and can trace their roots to the earlier winter landscapes of Flemish artists such as Pieter Bruegel the Elder. Such scenes allowed artists like Esaias van de Velde, Hendrick Avercamp and Aert van der Neer to indulge themselves in the depiction of a broad spectrum of society engaged in leisure activities. Van der Neer’s acute observation is evident in the present picture, not only in the myriad of figures who skate, stride and slide across the frigid landscape. Notable are the children falling into a hole in the ice (known in Dutch as ‘wak’, related to the English ‘weak’) in the foreground. In Dutch the proverb ‘door het ijs zakken’ (falling through the ice) means getting (yourself) in trouble. Notable as well are the pair of figures in the foreground who engage in a game of kolf, a predecessor of the modern game of golf. Kolf originated in the Middle Ages and involved the use of a club to knock a ball towards a target. The sport grew so popular in the urbanised Dutch environment and its players so rowdy from too much drink that the resulting damage to personal property induced a number of city councils to pass laws restricting its play to the countryside. It is tempting therefore to interpret the scene in the foreground as a moralising message, so typical for North Netherlandish pictures from the Golden Age. Be that as it may, Van der Neer explored the wak-theme in combination with kolf in several pictures – as did other masters, such as Hendrick Avercamp, Thomas Heeremans and Nicolaes Molenaer.

BIOGRAPHY

Aert (Aernout) van der Neer was born in 1603 or 1604 in Gorinchem, a flourishing trading city situated on the river Waal, to the east of Rotterdam and south of Utrecht.  He was the son of Egerom (or Igrom) Aertsz. van der Neer, a majoor (steward or estate manager) at Fort Suikerberg in Klundert (North Brabant) and his wife, Aeltje Jansdr.  According to Arnold Houbraken, in his youth the artist also served as a majoor for the lords of Arkel, who had an estate in the village of Arkel, just north of Gorinchem.  It is not known where or with whom van der Neer trained as an artist.  However, by 1629, the year he married Lijsbeth Govaertsdr. in Amsterdam, his marriage certificate described him as a “painter 25 years old”.  It seems that the couple had settled in Amsterdam by the early 1630s, but it is possible that van der Neer had moved there several years earlier.  The dates of birth of the couple’s two eldest sons, Eglon, who later became a successful genre painter and Johannes, are not recorded.  However, two other sons, Pieter (1640 – before 1648) and Pieter II (1648 – before 1683) and daughters, Cornelia (1642-1683) and Lijsbeth (1645 – before 1675) were baptised in the Nieuwe Kerk in Amsterdam. 

Like a number of seventeenth-century artists, van der Neer also had a second occupation.  In 1659, he was described as the keeper of a tavern called “de Graeff van Hollant” in the Kalverstraat, with his son Johannes.  On 25 January 1662 he was again mentioned in a list of innkeepers, but on 12 December the same year declared bankruptcy.  In an inventory of his possessions drawn up at that time, his own paintings were appraised at relatively low values, mostly five guilders or less.  He continued to paint, living in a state of extreme poverty on the Kerkstraat, until his death on 9 November 1677. 



[i] See ‘Certificate’ by W. Schults, dated Berlin 13 April, 2013. Copy available on request.

[ii] See: W. Schultz, 2002, op. cit., p. 187, cat. no. 215.