My Favourite Painting: Tim Breitmeyer

The head of the CLA chooses a wintry scene by Vermeulen.

Tim Breitmeyer on his choice: Skaters on a Frozen River by Andries Vermeulen

‘We are a family of winter-sports enthusiasts. This picture reminds me of the joys of spending Christmas holidays in the Alps: the winter scenery and bustling everyday activity, with people enjoying themselves on a winter’s day in the countryside, and including the stark reminder of my own rather painful attempts at ice skating!

‘It has exquisitely detailed brushwork, even down to the sharpened ice skates with blades glinting in the winter sunshine.’

Tim Breitmeyer is a farmer and president of the CLA

John McEwen’s comments on Skaters on a Frozen River

Andries Vermeulen was born in the oldest Dutch city, Dordrecht, which is often called the ‘Island of Dordt’ because it’s bordered by five rivers. He was taught by his father, the engraver Cornelis Vermeulen (1644–1708), and, in the tradition of Dordrecht’s most famous artist, Aelbert Cuyp (1620–91), became a landscape painter in debt to the 17th-century ‘Golden Age’ of Dutch art.

Landscape as a genre of oil painting was principally a Dutch invention. Not only did the country, so carefully arranged and arduously maintained, insistently preoccupy its inhabitants, but, for painters independent of religious influence or royal patronage, secular subjects were a liberation. As Holland’s power declined politically, so its later painters looked at Nature through the eyes of their Old Masters from the days of naval glory.

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Vermuelen here recaptures a scene that might have taken place in the so-called Little Ice Age, a period of notably cold winters in the Low Countries that reached its first artistic zenith with Pieter Bruegel the Elder’s wintry masterpiece Hunters in the Snow of 1565.

The Dutch theorist and biographer Karel van Mander advised artists at the outset of the 17th century: ‘Make the countryside or the town or the water full of activity; people should be doing things.’

Skating scenes became a popular subject during the Dutch Golden Age, especially when there were hard winters, as there were between 1640 and 1660, and again between 1780 and 1810. The latter period coincided with when Vermeulen was painting.

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