04 August 2015

Hendrick Avercamp 1615: his original winter paintings... and modern copies

Hendrick Avercamp (1585–1634) was born in Amsterdam, and trained there, probably with Pieter Isaacsz. This deaf artist, known as The Mute of Kampen, was a man who specialised in painting winter scenes. His paintings must have appealed to Dutch citizens, representing the landscape and life of their beloved and newly formed United Provinces of the Netherlands. [The Seven United Provinces had formed a repub­lic as recently as 1581, when part of the Netherlands emerged from endless Spanish oppression.]

Avercamp’s manner was first based on that of the Flemish foll­ow­ers of Pieter Bruegel the Elder. He came into contact with some of Bruegel's followers who'd settled in Amsterdam, like David Vinckboons. Avercamp’s groups of small figures were drawn together in the paintings through gently graduated colour. His pictures were created in the studio from closely observed watercolour drawings and were followed stylistically by his nephew Barent Avercamp (1621-79) and others.

A Scene on the Ice near a Town 
by Hendrick Avercamp c1615, 
86 x 54 cm 
National Gallery London 

Winter Skaters Near a Mill
by Hendrick Avercamp c1630,
lent to the National Gallery London

A Scene on the Ice near a Town was set under the pale winter sky; a frozen waterway receding into the far distance provided the stage for lively diversions upon the ice, including an early form of golf. It has been suggested that the town was Kampen, where Avercamp lived and worked, but it is more likely to have be imaginary. The painting is not dated but this particular winter landscape appears to be from c1615.

The National Gallery in London displayed a comprehensive Hendrick Avercamp exhibition from March–July 2010. They noted that Hendrick Avercamp did not invent the brutally cold winter landscape; he was, however, the first artist to specialise in this quintessent­ial Dutch subject. His lively paintings, full of frost and silvery air, captured the joy that arose in the Netherlands when temperatures dropped, canals and rivers froze, and throngs of skaters ventured onto the ice. With a keen eye, Avercamp masterfully depicted skaters bent over to strap on blades, couples sashaying hand in hand, men in fancy britches playing sports, and figures slipping and falling with arms out stretched. Avercamp’s pictures were not portraits of actual places, yet their descriptive power was such that they were utterly convincing in their depiction of C17th life.

My students particularly liked the normalness of Avercamp's scenes. He shared Bruegel’s gift for story telling, imagining lively encounters between figures and lavishing remarkable attention on details, down to the reflections of figures on ice . His paintings, like those of the older artist, invited repeated viewing to discover all of their surprises. At first glance, the crowds of skaters seemed to blend together. But closer observation of in Winter Skaters Near a Mill c1630, for example, revealed a great diversity of type: peasants, tradesmen, burghers, and aristocracy mingle, as did young and old, men and women. Avercamp captured over and over a remarkable range of poses, gestures, and activities.

A Scene on the Ice near a Town, 1990s
painted by Liu Yingjie in the manner of Hendrick Avercamp
122 x 76 cms

In light of the interest shown in fakers like Elmyr de Hory, Fernand Legros, Real Lessard, John Drewe, John Myatt and Wolfgang Beltracchi, I thought I would have a look at a framed oil painting, by hand, "in the manner of" A Scene on the Ice near a Town by Hendrick Avercamp. The showroom
that sold the painting was explicitly honest in saying this was a lovely copy that would cost only £1,735, rather than the original Avercamp which would be valued in the millions. [In 2004, Avercamp's A Winter Scene with many Figures Skating on a Frozen River achieved $9 million at Sotheby's in New York].

The actual artist of the new painting, Liu Yingjie, was born in Quanzhou China in 1971. After studying at the Fujian Academy of Fine Arts, Liu par­t­icipated in national and provincial art exhibitions winning awards with his paintings being purchased by Western collect­ors. Liu is now a member of the Chinese Fine Arts Association. The show room has sourced a selection of highly regarded paintings from galleries and auctions, to meticulously recreate in the finest detail, includ­ing the original size. Each painting has details of its provenance along with the artist’s credentials. All paintings in the Gallery collection are stretched and framed by Calmar Framing in Exeter, Devon.

The buyer of this modern version of Avercamp will be absolutely cer­tain that he/she is buying a Liu, painted since 1990 - the signature is in the corner of the painting. And in any case the original painting has a pale beige sky; the Liu has a somewhat bluer sky. But will the grandchildren of the original purchasers of the Liu be tempted to smudge the tiny Liu signature and sell the 1990s painting as a c1615 original? Or, more likely, will they be tempted to suggest that it was painted by a contemporary colleague or student of Avercamp, working in the master’s style?


Australian in Amsterdam said...

I assumed all 17th century Dutch painters painted portraits or genre scenes and looked like Vermeer. Until we examined Avercamp etc in class, those winter scenes seemed rare. Am loving the Dutch themes.

Hels said...

Australian in Amsterdam

I love the Dutch theme too :) Nearly half of the Netherlands was below sea level, protected behind dikes and drained by windmills. In such a flat environment, especially near the nation’s great rivers, winter landscapes must have been familiar and loved. Particularly in the icy 17th century! Imagine a leaden sky, windmills everywhere, sleighs moving and skaters having fun.

Avercamp wasn’t the only Dutch or Flemish painter who loved such scenes. Consider people like Jacob van Ruisdael, Adriaen van de Velde, Klaes Molenaer, Lucas van Uden and Jan van de Capelle.

Deb said...

Ahhh but you did not answer the most important question. Do Scotsmen wear undies under their kilt?

Hels said...


I will transfer this question to the post on Scottish tartans.

sherlina halim said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Hels said...

Intelliblog examined the film The Forger and asked: "I guess the main objection to a forgery is that is made in order to profit from it by defrauding the person who buys it in the belief that it is genuine. Financial considerations aside, is a good forgery an imitation? If a copy were made for the love of art and an artist, and not for ill-gotten profit, is it still art?"