c. 1625; Pen with brown and black, brush with bodycolor, 14.4 x 19.5 cm; Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam, Netherlands
In the pale moonlight fishermen are working on a river while fire glows in the distance where boats are being repaired. Hendrick Avercamp has conjured the nocturnal atmosphere with masterly skill. After drawing the design in pen and ink, the artist added bodycolour over the entire surface of the composition. The contours of the figures are clearly outlined: this type of paint cannot be mixed and each brushstroke remains separate, requiring the artist to work with utmost control. Thus the glistening reflection of the moonlight on the water is rendered solely with cross-hatching in white bodycolour. 'Paintings on paper' like this were intended for display as autonomous works of art. They were a cheap alternative to oil paintings.
Avercamp learned his trade from Pieter Isacksz in Amsterdam. His work also betrays the influence of Flemish landscape painters such as Gillis van Coninxloo. The Flemish tradition is discernable in Avercamp's early work. These are narrative pieces: landscapes with high horizons and staffage. Later, winter landscapes became his speciality. Avercamp's drawings were often intended as preparatory sketches for paintings, although he also produced autonomous works on paper, like this nocturnal scene.
Hatching: close parallel or crisscrossed lines in a picture is known as hatching. This is used in prints and drawings to depict shade and to portray rounded forms. The word 'hatching' comes from the French 'hacher', meaning to cut into pieces.