Following in the footsteps of 19th Century artists such as Turner, Leech travelled through the Aosta Valley in Swizerland in 1911. The series of snowscapes he painted en plein air during the tour ranged from studies of grey, wintry rivers and snow-laden trees such as Snow scene, Switzerland, to extensive views including The Rocks at Naye (1911; private collection). The latter might be compared with The Jungfrau (1912; private collection) painted the following year by Sir John Lavery, another artist to follow the Alpinist craze to Switzerland in years prior to the Great War.
While Leech's snowscapes arguably owed a debt to Monet's Winter studies of the Seine such as Lavacourt under snow (1881; National Gallery, London), it was Whistler who provided the greatest source of inspiration. From early in his artistic career Leech had been influenced by Whistler's low-toned technique and in 1911, in his Swiss series, he employed a delicate palette to convey the subtleties of sunlight and shadow on the snow-covered landscape. When he showed a number of these works at the Goupil gallery in April and May 1912, a review of the exhibition in The Times on 20 April described him as, 'an artist who aims at vivid illusion by means of that process of elimination which was practised by Whistler. His subjects [and his free, impressionistic approach] however, are very different from those of Whistler, and he is not a mere copyist. Where the illusion fails, his pictures are quite empty; but it is strong enough in several of his snow scenes and in his sea-piece Monaco, to compensate for their slightness; indeed the slightness makes the illusion more agreeable, because it seems to be so easily obtained'.
Denise Ferran comments on the present work: 'In this painting, Leech focuses on the light from the morning sun which casts soft, blue shadows and lights up the snow-laden branches of the winter trees. The weight of snow can be sensed lying thickly on the branches, and obstacles on the ground protrude from under the new fall of snow. The depth of the far shadows creates a cave-like effect in the branches. Leech displays remarkable accomplishment as a painter in his representation of the lightness and sparkle of the snow and the blueness of the shadows in this magical, fairytale scene' (see D. Ferran, William John Leech An Irish Painter Abroad, National Gallery of Ireland Exhibition Catalogue, Dublin, 1996, pp. 56-9 and 142).