Masterpiece Stories

Masterpiece Story: Cuno Amiet, Snowy Landscape (Deep Winter)

Kate Wojtczak 21 December 2021 min Read

These are the shortest days of the year in the Northern Hemisphere. It’s dark and cold outside, but there are two things which brighten the night – Christmas lights and snow, and this week’s masterpiece is all about snow (and a lot of it!). This is Cuno Amiet’s Snowy Landscape, also known as Deep Winter.

Cuno Amiet, Snowy Landscape (Deep Winter), 1904, Musée d'Orsay, Paris, France
Cuno Amiet, Snowy Landscape (Deep Winter), 1904, Musée d’Orsay, Paris, France.

When looking at the picture above, it’s hard to imagine the real size of it. I would guess it fits a rather small frame that one could hang over a desk, next to some other intimate landscapes. In reality, however, it’s painted on a huge canvas measuring more than four square meters! Kept in the Musée d’Orsay in Paris, the painting is nothing else than four meters square of mesmerizing snow. This at first may seem a risky concept, especially for 1904, which was before the advent of the 20th-century abstraction.

But it works surprisingly well – the wide bright surface dazzles with subtle shades of whites, blues and greys. Small daubs of colors merge into a hypnotizing, almost abstract image. However, the lone skier placed in the center of the composition reminds the viewer that they are looking at a snowy landscape.

Cuno Amiet, Snowy Landscape (Deep Winter), 1904, Musée d'Orsay, Paris, France.
Cuno Amiet, Snowy Landscape (Deep Winter), 1904, Musée d’Orsay, Paris, France. Detail.

The tiny figure not only plays the main role in the composition, but he also builds up its wintery, melancholic mood. A lonely human being surrounded by an overwhelming mountainous scenery is an iconographical concept originating in Romanticism. This makes this painting not just a wintery landscape, but a work about journey, both literary as a skiing trip and symbolically as a journey through life.

Cuno Amiet, Snowy Landscape (Deep Winter), 1904, Musée d'Orsay, Paris, France.
Cuno Amiet, Snowy Landscape (Deep Winter), 1904, Musée d’Orsay, Paris, France. Detail

To complete the composition, Amiet placed a color contrast in the upper part of the painting. Here we see a narrow view of what is beyond the glacier: trees and a shepherd’s hut. This suggests that there is something beyond the great white surface. The viewer is left with questions: who is the skier and where is he going? Will he come back?

Cuno Amiet (1868-1961) was a Swiss painter born in Solothurn, a small and charming town in the heart of the Swiss Alps. Like in the case of Paul Klee, the monumental Alpine landscapes shaped the sensibility of the artist whose oeuvre embraces many wintery scenes, gardens, and fruit harvests.

Recommended

John Singer Sargent, Lady Agnew of Lochnaw, 1892, Scottish National Gallery, Edinburgh, UK. Detail. Masterpiece Stories

Masterpiece Story: Lady Agnew of Lochnaw by John Singer Sargent

Lady Agnew of Lochnaw is a masterpiece by John Singer Sargent. It portrays a Victorian woman in a bold, modern manner. Sargent combined masterful...

James W Singer 5 December 2022

William Blake The Ancient of Days, from Europe A Prophecy, 1794, watercolor etching, The British Museum, London, UK. Masterpiece Stories

Masterpiece Story: The Ancient of Days by William Blake

The Ancient of Days, designed, printed, and hand colored by William Blake, was the frontispiece of his 1794 poem Europe a Prophecy. An epic...

Catriona Miller 28 November 2022

Sir Edwin Landseer, Monarch of the Glen, ca 1851, Scottish National Gallery, Edinburgh, UK. Detail. Masterpiece Stories

Masterpiece Story: Monarch of the Glen by Edwin Landseer

Monarch of the Glen by Edwin Landseer is one of the most famous British paintings of the 19th century. It is a Victorian melodrama at its most...

James W Singer 21 November 2022

Claude Monet, Water Lilies, 1906, Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago, IL, USA. Detail. Masterpiece Stories

Masterpiece Story: Water Lilies by Claude Monet

Water Lilies is a masterpiece of Impressionism. It blends the artist’s objective world and subjective...

James W Singer 7 November 2022