Pen drawing and watercolour on paper, 184 x 284 mm; Musées Royaux des Beaux-Arts, Brussels
After an apprenticeship in Amsterdam with portrait and historical painter Pieter Isaacsz., Hendrick Avercamp began to specialise in painting winter landscapes. In composing these he drew on a large supply of sketches of individual figures drawn from life. These rapid sketches of people going about their daily activities and pastimes on the ice or in the open field also served for composing, back in the studio, more developed, coloured drawings such as this River Landscape. His lively pen, the bright colour contrasts and the spatial continuity between the foreground and middle ground provide this scene with a freshness characteristic of the innovative middle period of Avercamp's career. The drawing attracts us with its narrative and realistic style. It is also very ingeniously structured, as can be seen in the skilful positioning of the man on the shore in the left-hand foreground, and in the lively interaction between the wind-swelled sails of the smaller and larger ships. The fishermen look on motionless, revealing the sober, at times humorous but never mocking eye that Avercamp casts on his surroundings.
The contours of the figures are drawn in pen and the intervening space is carefully filled in with water colour and bodycolour. Avercamp probably borrowed the use of aquarelle and gouache from Jan Brueghel the Elder and the Flemish emigrants living in Amsterdam, such as Hans Bol, Jacob Savery and David Vinckboons, whose works he had got to know during his apprenticeship with Pieter Isaacsz. Avercamp was one of the first Dutch draughtsmen who in the early 17th century developed this aquarelle technique specifically as a separate, independent art form. His pen drawings, illuminated with water colours, were so carefully finished and richly detailed that they were highly sought after by connoisseurs and art lovers. Indeed some were not, as was customary, kept in albums, but glued to panels and framed, and hung as a cheap alternative to paintings. Avercamp directed his efforts not only at the local art market in and around Kampen, but also and in particular at that of Amsterdam, where, according to contemporary documents, he was held in high renown.