CODART, Dutch and Flemish art in museums worldwide

On Thin Ice: Dutch Depictions of Extreme Weather

28 May - 1 September 2024

On Thin Ice: Dutch Depictions of Extreme Weather

Exhibition: 28 May - 1 September 2024

Featuring drawings and paintings by Hendrick Avercamp and other Dutch artists of the early 1600s, this exhibition focuses on landscapes that highlight frigid winters and unusually cool summers. It tells a story of persistent global cooling in the seventeenth century and shows how artists underscored the fundamental uncertainty of life and the necessity for adaptation through their depictions of ice skating and fishing.

On Thin Ice presents landscapes from the Netherlands that feature frigid winters and unusually cool summers. Highlighting drawings and paintings by Hendrick Avercamp and other Dutch artists largely from the seventeenth century.

During the seventeenth century, the Dutch Republic experienced a period of political stability, economic prosperity, and great technological advancement. With intricate systems of levees, canals, and windmills, the Dutch protected themselves from the harsh sea and transformed marshland into highly fertile farmland.

Despite these advancements, the Dutch could not control Mother Nature. During the 1600s, much of Europe experienced widespread regional cooling that historians have named the “Little Ice Age,” due to volcanic activity, in addition to changes in wind patterns and ocean currents. The Netherlands experienced some of the coldest winters on record during the 1600s. Snow fell more abundantly, and rivers and seaports remained frozen until spring.

Hendrick Avercamp, who was deaf and mute, became known for his lively depictions of winter. In his drawing, Skaters, Colf Players, and Sleighs on a Frozen River with a Ship at Right and a Dike at Left, figures are bustling about, transporting goods, and engaging in fun pastimes. In the distance, a woman has slipped and fallen, underscoring the treacherous conditions and the vulnerability of adapting their usual activities to the winter freeze.

Taking cue from Avercamp, amateur artist Jan Berents incorporates vulnerability in his drawing Winter Landscape with Figures, a lively scene that features a woman fallen on ice with her undergarments exposed as others go on with business as usual.

With strong contours and curvilinear lines, Avercamp’s Woman with a Winter Cloak conveys the wind as it pushes up against a woman’s thick cloak. Though she is hindered by the wind’s force, she continues to trudge along—a strong example of resiliency amid extreme weather.

Illustrations of seasonal labor and leisure originated from medieval prayer books and were often framed by a religious context. Seventeenth-century artists in the Dutch Republic moved away from these idealized views of labor and updated the genre with more contemporary imagery. Avercamp’s Landscape with a Man and Boy Fishing, Cows and a Village Beyond offers a view of daily life with a man and boy fishing while a woman milks a cow, and a windmill turns in the distance. A later example is Hendrick Meyer’s A Winter Scene, depicting men gathering and chopping wood despite the cold, as others skate on ice or transport goods.

Today’s global climate crisis is an ongoing issue affecting current and future generations, and often inspiring the work of contemporary artists. This exhibition offers a glimpse at how Dutch artists in 1600s presented such topics. Not only will it give visitors a better understanding of the past, but it will also provide an example of how adaptation is our only hope for the future.

To complement the exhibition, Getty will host a free public lecture on 28 July 2024, featuring four emerging scholars who will discuss works from the exhibition and address how they relate to current environmental, political, social, and economic topics.

On Thin Ice: Dutch Depictions of Extreme Weather is curated by Stephanie Schrader, curator of drawings at the Getty Museum.