Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Winter in Paintings

Even though I come from the California coast, January, for me, represents snow, bare branches and the ice skating season.  And so, here, for your viewing and pondering pleasure, a couple of artistic visions of winter:

Breugel, Peter the Elder Hunters in the Snow - January, 1565, Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna

Arcimboldo, Giuseppe Winter, 1573, Louvre Museum, Paris

I picked these paintings fairly randomly, just by racking over my brain back for the art works I knew having to do with winter.  But by placing them all on this page together, I've noticed a couple of things.  First, although the paintings spain roughly 350 years, they seem rather oddly to be grouped in pairs, with the paintings in each pair being painted within 25 years of their partner.

Hokusai, Katsushik Winter Evening in Japan 1760

Stuart, Gilbert The Skater (Portrait of William Grant), 1782, National Gallery of Art, Washington DC

The works of the pair above are the only ones of this group which were painted by non-Europeans (one Japanese artist, one American).  This means either that non-Europeans painted fewer winter scenes, or that I have a skewed knowledge of art history, and am more aware of paintings by Europeans.  I suspect the latter explanation is probably more the case.  Even the painting by Hokusai became important to western art historians (and thus well know to me) probably not as much for its own sake, but because European artists such as the impressionists "discovered", admired, and imitated Hokusai's work.  Furthermore, there is not a work among these six painted by a woman.  

Amiet, Cuno Schneelandschaft (Snow Landscape), 1904, Musée d'Orsay, Paris

Malevich, Kazimir, Morning in the Village after Snowstorm, 1912, Guggenheim Museum, NY

Despite the limits to diversity among the artists of these paintings I mentioned above, the works span a remarkably broad geographic and chronological range.  They represent six different contemporary countries, respectively the Netherlands, Italy, Japan, USA, Switzerland, and Russia.  To me, the most striking thing about this set of paintings is how similar the visions of winter have been across this space and time.  Just compare the first painting with the last.  There are 350 years and thousands of miles between them, and yet both artists are trying to capture a village transformed by snow, and both evoke the feeling of the cold hard work of winter through their trudging figures, backs turned to the viewer, going about their life chores.

Which is your favorite painting, and why?


  1. Malevich's is particularly neat because of the strong geometric forms and surprising use of color. Wassily Kadinski (also Russian) painted a similarly colorful winter landscape: http://zolotoivek.tumblr.com/post/10346001065/wassily-kandinsky-winter-landscape-1909.

    Love the blog,
    - abba

    1. Thanks for the link to the great Kandinsky painting. Did you already know this painting or did you find it in a google search? His painting strikes me as more peaceful than the Malevich painting, perhaps the softer shapes he uses. But both paintings certainly choose a daring color palate for a winter scene. They succeed in including reds and blues and yellows, and yet still giving the feeling of snow.

    2. I didn't know about the Kadinsky before reading your post. It got me to thinking about Russian landscapes; Russia because of our heritage and also because winter is long there; and Russia has a great fine arts tradition. I googled (in images) "Russia winter landscape paintings" and Kadinsky's piece was the most intriguing on the first page.