Adriaen van de Venne’s landscapes of the second and third decades of the seventeenth century proved instrumental upon the transmission and reinterpretation of Flemish prototypes by artists like Jan Brueghel I. Born in Delft to a prosperous Flemish fruit merchant, van de Venne studied Latin at the University of Leiden but dropped out to study with the Leiden miniaturist and goldsmith Simon Valck. Shortly thereafter, he finished his studies with Hieronymus van Diest in The Hague. Around 1608/14, van de Venne established himself as an independent artist in Middelburg, a city whose native landscape tradition influenced van de Venne’s early paintings. By 1625, he had moved to The Hague. There, his works – often witty depictions of human folly inscribed with a motto – found favor with cultivated, wealthy patrons, including both the House of Orange and the King of Denmark.
Writing in 1988, Martin Royalton-Kisch proposed a date of circa 1614-15 for this painting, observing that here van de Venne’s ‘informal approach is pursued to its limits’ and that the painting is especially ‘remarkable for its lack of contrivance’ (loc. cit.). Such a dating would place it among van de Venne’s earliest winter landscapes, contemporary with the painting of 1614 in the Gemäldegalerie, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin. Indeed, several characters in the Berlin painting likewise feature with only minimal changes in the present work, among them the couple skating in the lower right foreground and the skater dressed in black, his right skate raised and back turned to the viewer.
Further comparisons can be made with van de Venne’s round Winter landscape with elegant figures, which has likewise been dated to 1614-15 or slightly earlier (fig. 1), and a pair of landscapes depicting Summer and Winter (sold Sotheby’s, London, 30 November 1983, lot 71). In each case, an extensive landscape recedes into the distance, colorfully-clad figures add a sense of liveliness and repoussoir trees in the left foreground and right middle ground guide the viewer’s eye further into the composition.
We are grateful to Edwin Buijsen for endorsing the attribution on the basis of photographs and for his assistance with this catalogue entry.