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Frozen Canal with a Horse and Cart

© 2009 Musée du Louvre / Erich Lessing

Paintings
Dutch painting

Author(s):
Collange Adeline

The theme of the winter landscape with figures, pioneered by Pieter Bruegel the Elder in the 16th century, became extremely popular in the 17th century, notably with painters such as Isack van Ostade. A pupil of his brother Adriaen, he transposed his rustic scenes into his own frozen landscapes. His compositions, always enlivened by picturesque figures, are often built around a dominant diagonal. He renders their gentle harmony admirably with his subdued, almost monochrome palette.

A busy winter landscape

The theme of the crowded winter landscape, pioneered by Pieter Bruegel the Elder in the 16th century (Winter Landscape with Skaters and The Bird Trap, Musées Royaux des Beaux-Arts, Brussels), then developed by Hendrick Avercamp, became extremely popular in the 17th century. Isack van Ostade, who spent his short career in Haarlem, was one of the genre's finest exponents. Trained by his brother Adriaen van Ostade in the art of warm-hued chiaroscuro in peasant interiors, Isack soon forged his own personal style, transposing everyday country scenes into panoramic landscapes. Many of his compositions in the 1640s are built around a strong diagonal that separates sky and earth and introduces a certain dynamism. Our attention is drawn to increasingly small groups of figures that lead the eye off toward the horizon.

The rustc vigor of the figures

Isack van Ostade filled his large landscapes, which show the influence of Salomon van Ruysdael, with a host of small figures going about their business. From the doorway of his farmhouse, a farmer is watching the comings and goings on the ice: a child walking beside his mother, a peasant with a cartload of hay announced by a frantically squawking hen, two men making their way carefully out onto the ice, probably delivering a barrel of beer to the town across the water. Van Ostade liked to repeat certain motifs, seen in many of his paintings with slight variations: the man kneeling to attach his skates, and the white horse which he included so often in his works it is almost a signature. The animation of his delightful figures is a direct offshoot of the rustic vigor in the works of his brother Adriaen.

A refined monochrome palette

Forsaking the colorful style of his brother Adriaen, Isack attained a high degree of pictorial refinement. The entire composition - landscapes and figures - is skillfully unified by its delicate wintry harmony. His quasi-monochrome palette plays on subtle shades of blue, ochre brown and silvery greens, cold hues which are enlivened here and there by a few touches of red in the garments. But the main role is played by the luminous atmosphere that bathes the scene. The extraordinarily subtle shades of the frozen canal, ranging from blue to ochre with impalpable finesse, are ample demonstration of Isack van Ostade's talent.

Bibliography

Exposition, La Haye, Mauritshuis, 2001-2002. Holland frozen in time, The Dutch Winter Landscape in the Golden Age, Catalogue par Ariane van Suchtelen, La Haye, 2001-2002.

Technical description

  • Isaack van OSTADE (Haarlem, 1621 - Haarlem, 1649)

    Frozen Canal with a Horse and Cart

  • H. 1.08 m; W. 1.54 m

  • Acquired on the art market (Quatresols de la Hante), Paris, 1817

    INV. 1689

  • Paintings

    Richelieu wing
    2nd floor
    Holland, middle and second half of 17th century
    Room 33

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Additional information about the work

Signed: ISACK VAN OSTADE