c.1608-09; Oil on oak, 40.7 x 40.7 cm; National Gallery, London, UK
The Dutch painter Avercamp specialised in winter scenes of ice-covered canals showing figures skating and sledging. Small in scale, they are filled with intricate and carefully observed details. He was born in Amsterdam, but spent most of his life in the remote town of Kampen in Zuider Zee. His oil paintings and drawings enjoyed great popularity during his lifetime.
Avercamp's lively picture is typical of his winter scenes in which men and women from every level of society enjoy themselves on the ice. Elegantly designed, the spindly silhouetted tree frames the castle behind, while the distance is lost in a frosty haze. The scene is imagined, no such castle existed, but Avercamp has filled it with carefully observed and witty incident and detail. Smartly dressed couples hold hands and skate into the picture, children play on the left and near the picture's centre a man crashes to the ice while his partner throws up her arms in horror.
This busy scene of winter pursuits is full of closely observed detail. It is filled with people from all walks of life going about their business as well as enjoying themselves. On the right, the carved and gilded horse-drawn sledge has a lion rampant on its back and side, which may be an allusion to the lion of the Dutch United Provinces. The castle is imaginary.
This picture was once extended into a square shape. During cleaning in 1983 it was discovered that the additions were by a later hand and they were, therefore, removed.