An exhibition organized by the Kunsthistorisches Museum in collaboration with the Kunsthaus Zurich
Guest curator: Ronald de Leeuw, Amsterdam
The creation myths of most great civilizations agree that winter came into the world to punish man, or as a plague. Boreas, the Greek god of the cold north wind, personified winter. In northern mythology three years of frost herald the end of the world.
Large-scale depictions of how Napoleon’s Grande Armée was defeated by the Russian winter are a modern equivalent of these ancient scenarios of the end of the world. The contrary vision comprises serenity and joyous cheer: we gaze at views of a snow-covered countryside with skaters enjoying themselves on frozen ponds and rivers in the distance. The late 18th century sees a revival of long-unfashionable winter landscapes: at first romanticized, they evolve to reflect the palette of winter.
Impressionism, Dutch art and a wealth of landscapes – these were the ingredients of earlier winter exhibitions. The Kunsthistorisches Museum and the Kunsthaus Zurich have expanded this successful trio. Broadening the selection to include many different genres and schools, the two museums present a comprehensive survey comprising over 180 works by west-European artists. Four galleries and nine small rooms of the KHM’s Picture Gallery form the show’s spectacular setting. The works on show date from 1450 to the present. In addition to the subjects mentioned above there are Dutch allegories of the months, depictions of winter festivities and folk customs, and still lifes; even portraits join in and present changing winter fashions.
The paintings are arranged more or less in chronological order; the show’s guest curator, Ronald de Leeuw, was able to augment the selection by including large-scale tapestries and an imperial sleigh as well as cups and goblets, fragile porcelain figures and vessels cut from semi-precious stones.
Three years in the making, the exhibition brings together important loans from Amsterdam, Munich, London, Cambridge, Paris, Strasbourg, Rotterdam, Dresden, Zurich, Philadelphia, Darmstadt, Edinburgh, Cologne, The Hague, New York, Gent, Weimar and Boston, to name but a few. However, the unique focal point of any winter exhibition is in the Picture Gallery of the Kunsthistorisches Museum: Pieter Bruegel the elder’s painting “Hunters in the Snow”, perhaps the most famous depiction of winter in European art. The large panel cannot be loaned and will only be on show in Vienna.
In addition to works by Pieter Bruegel the exhibition includes paintings by Jacob van Ruisdael, Hendrick Avercamp, Jan van Goyen, Aert van der Neer, Peter Paul Rubens, Jan Steen, Jacob Jordaens, William Turner, Francisco de Goya, Caspar David Friedrich, Gustave Courbet, Jean-François Millet, Claude Monet, Alfred Sisley, Camille Pissarro, Vincent van Gogh, Giovanni Segantini, Edvard Munch, Joseph Beuys and Anselm Kiefer.