Ice Skaters in Painting

Magda Michalska 31 January 2024 min Read

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

Hendrick Avercamp

Ice Skaters in Painting
Ice Skaters in Painting:  Hendrick Avercamp, Winter Landscape with Ice Skaters, 1608, Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam, Netherlands.

Described in various documents as the “Kampen Mute,” Hendrick Avercamp (1585-1634) was born in Amsterdam but spent most of his life in Kampen, and is believed to have been deaf and mute. That might have made him a great observer of human nature, which he later documented in his works. He specialized in winter landscapes. Furthermore, his early ones show a style of a clear narrative, often containing risqué anecdotes. With time he imbued his paintings with a 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

Eastman Johnson, Ice skater (also known as Child Warming Hands in Studio)
Ice Skaters in Painting: Eastman Johnson, Ice Skater (also known as Child Warming Hands in Studio), 1879, private collection. Wikioo.

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. He was among the first American artists of his generation to receive extensive training abroad. Traveling to Britain, France, and the Netherlands, he spent over three years in the Hague, inspired by the Old Masters and Dutch genre and landscape painting.

Sir Henry Raeburn

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

Also titled 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. This 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 recognized by others as a sophisticated one. Respect.

Esaias van de Velde

Ice Skaters in Painting
Ice Skaters in Painting: Esaias van de Velde, Skaters on the Ice at a Farm, c.1614, Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam, Netherlands.

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

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