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Brrrr... Winter Landscapes

The good ones make you feel warm

Pieter the Elder Bruegel - Hunters in the Snow 1565

Pieter’s painting is regarded as the first true winter landscape painting. Commissioned by a rich noble in Antwerp, it was painted during a particularly cold winter. It’s cheerful. Villagers are ice skating or gathered around a warm fire. Hunters and their dogs leave to hunt. It’s very happy and hopeful. It’s almost as though none is shivering.

All landscape painting in Western art first developed and then flourished as Protestantism grew. Martin Luther did not mind a few stern portraits, - indeed Lucas Cranach the Elder was a close colleague of Luthers. This portrait in 1529 is straightforward, about as exciting as Protestant portraits got.

As Luther flourished so did landscape painting. Whereas before landscapes had been mere backdrops for images of saints and nobles, artists were free to broaden their scope: forget the saint, look at the background instead.

By the 19th century artists, being artists, looked for extraordinary ways to express ordinary things and, they began to use color and shape to impose feelings. The landscape became a reflection of human moods.

Color was used to evoke a mood. E.g, the lavender in Friedrich’s mist creates a melancholy.

Caspar David Friedrich - Winter Landscape 1811

Friedrich painted sublime nature, as though not touched by humans. Winter Landscape is moody, remote, profound. Intensely emotional.

It conveys: “Forget the people, give me fog instead.“ This personal emotional feeling was part of the Romantic movement.

This art style was so popular in the l9th century that there’s one mood canvas in practically every garage sale in America. It has, for most, catapulted out of favor. Although painters such as Thomas Kincade have passionate collectors.

The Russians took to painting wintry landscapes with gusto. Of course they had lots of snow to paint.

Ivan Shishkin - Winter 1890

He painted snow with grey, blue and burnt sienna, elegantly and realistically. So literally it looks like almost like a photograph. And, it seems to me that he really truly liked snow.

Americans in the cold snowy Northeast also got into the act, especially the Hudson River School. The very fine artist Frederic Edwin Church painted this splendid iceberg in l859.

Frederic Edwin Church - Iceberg flotante 1859

Church was a skilled and talented painter. Note the colors in his ice. Lavender, ochre, pink, sienna. He crafted its crevices masterfully.

Jean-Baptiste Camille Corot - Landscape 1860

The mainstream French painters were clearly less excited about winter. Jean-Baptiste Camille Corot painted this landscape in Bremen Germany. But he never painted any snow.

Corot liked leaves on his trees, even when there was a wintry feel in the meadow. If he ever painted a snowy landscape I couldn’t find one. He is clearly adept at subtle colors. Maybe he just didn’t like snow.

In the l880’s several miserable winters blanketed Europe and even in France snow was everywhere. The Impressionists, as did the more traditional American Fredrick Church, rejoiced in the colors of snow.

Claude Monet, Alfred Sisley, Camille Pissarro couldn’t stop painting snow. The snow provided an opportunity to rethink subtle color tones

Camille Pissarro - Rue de la Citadelle, Pontoise 1873

Camille Pissaro liked ochre and yellows alongside the blues in the snow.

Vincent van Gogh liked ALL of the colors.

Vincent van Gogh - Landscape with Snow 1888

When Van Gogh first arrived in Arles there was record cold and snow.

He was so inspired he completed three paintings in three days. What snow! His snow is white, blue and violet. Umber, sienna, green and blue make his puddles and slush. Yellow grass lines the road.

Van Gogh’s snow doesn’t look cold. To me it seems wondrously inviting.

Claude Monet rejoiced in the subtlety snow provided.

Claude Monet - Wheatstacks, Snow Effect, Morning 1891

"For me a landscape hardly exists at all as a landscape, because its appearance is constantly changing; but it lives by virtue of its surroundings, the air and the light which vary continually."

Claude Monet may have loved painting snow more than any of the Impressionists - something we don’t think about the artist so famous for his summer water lilies. Monet became the maestro of snow.

Claude Monet - Snow at Argenteuil 1875

This is one of l8 snow landscapes Monet did.

When Edouard Manet, himself no slouch of a painter, viewed this painting, he is reported to have declared, “I would not know how to do better.” Since he could not, he never once painted snow.

Oh well, let’s hope he built very interesting snowmen. Or at least went ice skating.

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