Barend Cornelis Koekkoek is widely considered to be the most important landscape painter of the Dutch Romantic period. The present painting was painted in 1846, when Koekkoek was at the height of his mastery and international recognition. It was painted a year after his journey with the Dutch King Willem II to Luxemburg, and just before he would start building his prestigious house and atelier in Cleves, which now houses the Museum Haus Koekkoek. This painting, depicting numerous villagers on a frozen river by a fortified house, may be regarded as an important masterpiece from this crucial artistic period.
Barend Cornelis was born on the 11th of October 1803 in Middelburg as the eldest of four children. His father and first teacher was the river- and seascape painter Johannes Hermanus Koekkoek (1778-1851). Barend Cornelis, together with his three brothers, received their first drawing lessons in their father's workshop. At the age of thirteen Koekkoek joined the local academy and attended the evening classes of Abraham Kraystein (1793-1855). A scholarship awarded by the Dutch Government made it possible for Koekkoek in 1822 to attend the Royal Academy of Arts in Amsterdam, where he became a pupil of Jean Augustin Daiwaille (1786-1850) as well as of Jan Willem Pieneman (1779-1853). Barend Cornelis would work with Dawaille for the rest of his career and, in 1833, married his daughter Elise Therese.
In 1823 Koekkoek received his 'Diploma der Eerste Klasse' of the Royal Academy and a year after this he received an honoury mention in the yearly review of the Academy.
From 1830 onwards, Koekkoek undertook several journeys along the Rhine and the Ruhr from both The Netherlands and the old ducal city of Cleves where the artist and his wife had settled in 1834. These trips gave him the opportunity to get to know the landscapes and motives whilst drawing and painting, subsequently working out these studies in his studio.
In contrast with his landscapes from the 1830's, Koekoek's landscapes from the 1840's show many more figures and buildings. These elements are also given a more important role within the overall composition. In this manner, the present painting shows Koekkoek's preference for idealized compositions. Refering to the area of the (Middle) Rhine, Koekkoek has added an old medieval house, creating a romantic-idealized landscape. This work is an excellent example of his work from this period. Koekkoek uses motives like the medieval castle for their formal-aesthetic function within the painting.
The composition of the present painting has some parallels with an important painting which was painted by Koekkoek in 1845, which was kept in the important collection Fodor (1801-1860) and is now in the collection of the Amsterdam Historical Museum. In this painting Koekkoeks preference for figures on the ice, together with elements and motives of old houses and large trees are visible. This winter landscape is one of six paintings that were acquired by Fodor directly from Koekkoek. In his collection, there are also several drawings by his hand. In comparison with the present lot, this fact is relevant because Fodor had several compositions by Koekkoek that were painted in the 1840s. This above mentioned painting from 1845 is generally considered to be one of Koekkoeks most important winter scenes and has clear parallels with the present lot. Fodor was known to judge his works of art on the basis of the esthetic value of their total composition.
Koekkoek's lesson-book for young painters, Herinneringen en Mededeelingen van eenen landschapsschilder, which was published in Amsterdam in 1841, was conceived as a description of a journey along the Rhine, whereby he took the reader as a pupil by the hand, drawing their attention to the many special characteristics of the landscape and the architectural elements within it. In the year of the book's publication Koekkoek founded a drawing Academy in Kleef where he instructed many young artists who wished to be tutored according to the guidelines of his book. The basis was laid for what later became known as 'Cleves Romanticism.'
The present painting demonstrates the skilled manner in which various motives are combined to form a fantasized whole. As said, in the 1840's Koekkoek had reached the height of his artistic mastership. In this period, Koekkoek was mostly recognized as an important artist because of the prizes he won, the most foremost of which from 1839 to 1855. He was, for example, awarded a Gold Medal at the Salon in Paris in 1840 for a landscape painted for the Prince of Orange, who later became King Willem II of the Netherlands. On seeing this painting in The Hague, the successor to the Russian throne, the later Tsar Alexander II ordered a pendant of the work. In the previous year he had been rewarded Gold Medals in both Brussels and The Hague. In 1843 Koekkoek received his second Gold Medal at the Paris Salon, confirming his status as the leading Romantic landscape painter of his time. It was also the year in which he moved into his purpose built studio "Belvedere" which was erected on the fundaments of an old city tower in Cleves and gave Koekkoek wonderful views of the town. In 1855 he was again awarded a Golden Medal at the Salon in Paris.
The subtle treatment of light, multilayered pictorial planes, large number of figures and refined architectural elements in the present painting are remarkable even by Koekkoek's standards and are a tour-de-force of his virtuosity.
The authenticity of the present lot has kindly been confirmed after firsthand examination by Drs Guido de Werd, director of Haus Koekkoek, Cleves.