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Ice Skating in Painting

Hendrick Avercamp, Winter Landscape with ice skaters, 1608, Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam.

Sport And Entertainment

Ice Skating in Painting

Yesterday I went to the ice rink and I realized again how fun it is to slide and feel light again (or very heavy when you fall). So I thought it would be fun to review this sport in art and as it turns out, ice skating is quite a popular subject in painting!

Ice Skating in Painting
 Hendrick Avercamp, Winter Landscape with ice skaters, 1608, Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam.

Described in various documents as the Kampen Mute, Hendrick Avercamp (1585-1634) born in Amsterdam but who spent most of his life in Kampen, is believed to had been deaf and dumb. That might have made him a great observer of human nature, which he later documented in his works. He specialised in winter landscapes and his early ones show a style of a clear narrative, often containing risqué anecdotes. With time he imbued his paintings with more atmospheric quality as we see here: the high observation point makes the viewer an observer of daily human activities during a harsh winter.

Eastman Johnson, Ice skater (also known as Child Warming Hands in Studio), 1879, private collection.

Ever heard of Eastman Johnson? He was one of the founders of the Metropolitan Museum of Art you can find his name inscribed at the entrance). Born in Maine, he spent a lot of time in Boston and subsequently in Europe where he trained in Germany, being among the first American artists of his generation to receive extensive training abroad. Travelling to Britain, rance and the Netherlands, he spent over three years in the Hague, inspired by the Old Masters and Dutch genre and landscape painting.

Ice Skating in Painting
Sir Henry Raeburn, Reverend Robert Walker Skating on Duddingston Loch, 1795, National Galleries of Scotland, Edinburgh.

Titled also as Minister Skating, this fun and extraordinarily unusual portrait shows a priest who is thought to be the Reverend Robert Walker, minister of the Canongate Kirk and a member of the Edinburgh Skating Society. It was the oldest such a club in Britain and its members usually met on the frozen waters of Duddingston or Lochend on the outskirts of Edinburgh to show off their skills and to play. Although the minister looks very relaxed as if his pose was effortless, it would have been recognised by others as a sophisticated one. Respect.

Ice Skating in Painting
Esaias van de Velde, Skaters on the ice at a farm, c.1614, Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam.

Is ice skating a national sport of the Dutch? Could be, since it has been popular already since the times of the Reformation, as the sports historian Marnix Koolhaas has written, and the first skating world championships were held in Amsterdam in 1889. What is sure, there is a lot of ice skating in painting of the Dutch.


Magda, art historian and Italianist, she writes about art because she cannot make it herself. She loves committed and political artists like Ai Weiwei or the Futurists; like Joseph Beuys she believes that art can change us and we can change the world.

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