Alfred de Balathier-Conigham, Château d’Ambronay, l’Ain, c. 1870
Thence by descent to his son-in-law, Comte Louis Bernard de Lauzière
Thence by descent to his son-in-law, Comte François Carra de Vaux Saint-Cyr (1893-1972)
Thence by descent to the owner who consigned the picture to the following sale
Anon sale, Sotheby’s, London, 7 July 2005, lot 138
With Johnny Van Haeften Limited, London, 2005
Private Collection, United Kingdom, 2006-2016
With Johnny Van Haeften Limited, London, 2016
Private Collection, United Kingdom, 2016-2022
Dutch and Flemish Old Master Paintings, Catalogue 15, Johnny Van Haeften Limited, London, 2005, no. 41
Very little is known about the life of the painter and wood carver Cornelis Symonsz. Beelt, who signed his paintings ‘C. beelt’ or ‘K. beelt’. Active in Haarlem from the mid-1630s until 1664, Beelt may be counted among the wider circle of artists who came under the influence of Jan van Goyen (1596–1656), Salomon van Ruysdael (1600/03–1670) and the brothers Adriaen (1610–1685) and Isaack van Ostade (1621–1649). His favourite subjects were seascapes, beach scenes, winter landscapes and views of public streets and squares, usually populated with numerous figures. The latter include depictions of historical events such as The proclamation of the Peace of Münster on the Grote Markt in Haarlem, 1648[i]and The departure of Charles II of England from Scheveningen, 2 June 1660[ii]. He also painted peasant interiors and the workshops of weavers and blacksmiths in a style reminiscent of early Adriaen van Ostade.
A view looking across the frozen Zwarte Water (Black Water) towards the town of Hasselt in the background is the location of this lively skating scene[iii]. On a cold, clear day crowds of people are out and about enjoying winter recreations or pursuing everyday chores. In the foreground, groups of fashionably dressed men and women, simple country folk, dogs and children have gathered before a country inn: some have come to socialise, while others move goods about on sledges or attend to their animals. Among them, an old lady sits in a horse-drawn sleigh, her hands in a fur muff, waiting to be conveyed across the ice. Nearby, skaters glide in twos and threes across the ice, small children propel themselves about on little sledges, and a boy picks himself up after a tumble. Further out from the shore and as far as the eye can see, little groups of figures animate the broad expanse of ice, walking, skating, sledging, and riding in horse-drawn sleighs. The artist’s controlled palette of cool blue, grey, ochre and brown, enlivened with accents of brighter colour in the figures’ clothing, has successfully captured the atmosphere of winter.
The town of Hasselt lies about 7 miles north of Zwolle in the Dutch Province of Overijssel. It is situated on the banks of the Zwarte Water (the Black Water) into which the River Vecht flows. The church of St. Stephen’s with its distinctive spire is clearly recognisable in the present painting. The famous Haarlem landscapist Jan van Goyen also painted winter scenes featuring distant views of Hasselt.
Winter scenes became popular in seventeenth-century Holland not only because of their picturesque qualities, but also because they reflected a typical aspect of Dutch life. It is well documented that the winters were much colder then, with rivers and canals often frozen for weeks or months on end. The seventeenth century fell in the middle of an extended period of extremely cold weather, sometimes known as the Little Ice Age. The cold period began after 1550, with the first of the very severe winters occurring in 1565, the same year in which Pieter Bruegel the Elder (c. 1525/30-1569) painted his first views of the snow-clad Flemish countryside, thereby laying the foundations for the development of the winter landscape as a genre in its own right. The Dutch, with their characteristic ingenuity, adapted to the harsh conditions, developing new modes of transport for conveying people and goods along frozen waterways, and popularising winter sports, including skating and games like kolf and klootschieten. Winter themes proliferated in the prints, drawings and paintings of the period, as well as in the works of contemporary writers. Many of these contain moralistic reflections on the recklessness of skaters and the perils of venturing onto the frozen expanses, comparing the slipperiness of the ice with the uncertainty of life. These sentiments are perfectly captured in an illustrated proverb by the poet-moraliser Jacob Cats which warns the reader that pride comes before a fall with the words, “If an ass prospers it goes dancing on the ice”[iv].
Close observation reveals that our painting almost certainly once bore the signature of the artist on a plank lying in the right foreground. However, at some later date, the signature was evidently scrubbed out and replaced with the inscription J. V. Ostade f. 1653 in an attempt to ascribe the picture to a more prominent name. The picture, however, has nothing to do with Isaack van Ostade, who had in any case died in 1649, but the date of 1653 may well be authentic, since another painting by Beelt of The Beach of Scheveningen is signed and dated 1653 in a similar manner on a plank lying on the ground[v].
Few biographical details exist for Cornelis Symonsz. Beelt. Until recently it was thought that he probably came from Rotterdam. However, the latest research has revealed that he was born in Haarlem, where he posted the banns of his marriage to Jakomijntje Jansdr. (Cool) in the Reformed Church on 30 March 1636[vi]. His date of birth has not been discovered, but it has been put at around 1610-1615. Various documents record his activities in Haarlem both as a woodcarver (beeldsnijder) and as a painter. His name appears for the first time in the membership rolls of the Haarlem Guild of St Luke in 1634 and occurs for the last time in the list of contributions of 1661. His last signs of life are paintings dated 1663 and 1664.
Examples of Beelt’s work can be found in a number of museums, including the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, the Frans Halsmuseum, Haarlem, the Bredius Museum in The Hague, the Maritiem Museum, Rotterdam and the Staatliche Kunsthalle in Karlsruhe.
[i] Canvas, 103 x 147 cm, signed: K. Beelt, Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam, inv. no. C93 (on loan from the city of Amsterdam).
[ii] Canvas, 109 x 173.5 cm, signed K. Beelt, Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam, Inv. No. A2692.
[iii]The location was identified by Marijke de Kinkelder, at the RKD, in The Hague, October 2010.
[vi]See: I. van Thiel-Stroman, ‘Cornelis Symonsz. Beelt’, Painting in Haarlem 1500-1850. The Collection of the Frans Hals Museum, Gent-Haarlem, 2006, p. 99.