Holland on Ice with Hendrick Avercamp

Hendrick Avercamp, Winter Landscape with Skaters (detail). 1608. Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam.

It's sort of chilly right now in the Amsterdam Rijksmuseum, even with the thermostat cranked up. That sudden drop in temperature has everything to do with the unique survey of paintings and drawings by Hendrick Avercamp (1585-1634). His claim to fame is a number of stunningly beautiful and meticulously detailed winter landscapes, filled to the brim with folks on sleds and skaters who are learning the frosty joys and painful perils of snow: you got your skating couples, kids engaged in fierce snowball fights, but also a chap who ignominiously sinks through the ice and unfortunate skaters who bite the ice rather than slide forward on it.

Avercamp himself experienced the dawn of a minor 'ice age': a series of remarkably harsh winters that obviously served as a source of inspiration. The artist, also called the 'mute' (because he quite literally didn't have the gift of the gab), made the icescape into an independent genre within Netherlandish painting. His oeuvre is in a way timeless: just like back in the Golden Age, Dutch people still break out their skates and hit the ice en masse as soon as the Winter King decides to rule his season with an iron hand.

In addition to almost twenty of Avercamp's finest paintings, the exhibition features thirty of his best drawings from museums and private collections throughout the world. Hendrick Avercamp: The Little Ice Age runs from 20 November 2009 to 15 February 2010 at the Rijksmuseum. It will then appear at the National Gallery of Art in Washington from 21 March to 5 July 2010.

For a pictorial survey of Avercamp's works and information on their present whereabouts, go here.

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