This is one of the rare winter landscapes by Franz de Paula Ferg, and was probably executed after 1724, when the artist settled in London. It is rarer still as a moonlit scene, in which the artist explores the effects of the moon on a cloudy night. A sense of transience is conveyed by the scuttling clouds which momentarily part, allowing the moon to cast its light on the frozen lake and the skaters below, thus creating a dramatic world of luminous white highlights and darker grey tones and shadows, relieved only by the touches of red, yellow and blue on the costumes of the skaters. A similarly dated winter landscape was sold at Sotheby's, London, 6 July 2006, lot 266 (for £105,600). The present picture, however, was probably part of a series of the Four Seasons (for example, see the series sold Christie's, London, 17 December 1981, lot 135, The Four Seasons). Indeed A frozen winter landscape with skaters was made into a print by Mani, entitled 'L'Hyver' [sic].
Born in Vienna, Franz de Paula Ferg was the son and student of the landscape painter Adam Pankraz Ferg (1651-1729). He was also taught by Josef Orient (1677-1747) and by Johann Graff (1653-1710), whose influence can be discerned in Ferg's slender figure types. Particularly influential, and evident also in the present work, was his study of the engravings of Jacques Callot and Sébastian Leclerc, as well as Dutch, Flemish and Italian art in general. Ferg successfully combined genre with landscape, and his early works depict bustling harbours, markets and villages, while his later pictures are generally composed of fewer, more carefully delineated figures. He left Vienna in 1718, travelling extensively throughout Germany and Austria, and spending extended periods in Franconia, Bamberg, Leipzig, Dresden (where he spent several years at the court) and Lower Saxony. For the last twenty years of his life he lived in London, where his landscapes appear to have been very popular, but according to contemporary sources Ferg died in misery, having made an unfortunate marriage.