Under the pale winter sky a frozen waterway receding into the far distance provides the stage for lively diversions upon the ice, such as 'kolf' (an early form of golf). It has been suggested that the town is Kampen, where Avercamp lived and worked, but it is more likely to be imaginary.
Avercamp, known as 'de stomme van Campen' (the mute of Kampen), became famous for his winter scenes.
Miranda Hinkley: We’re standing in front of a picture by Hendrick Avercamp, called ‘A Scene on the Ice near a Town’ painted in 1615, and we can see that there’s somebody sitting in a little boat, there’s people lacing their skates on and carrying fishing rods. What other details can we see here, Elena?
Elena Greer: Well, this is a real snap-shot of the Dutch people, both making the most of the winter weather and enjoying themselves, but also carrying on with their daily lives and it really celebrates their resilience in this particularly cold period. For example, we can see people skating, and one woman in the middle distance has actually fallen over and her skirts have all ruffled up. There are a few people running to her aid, but this is actually a motif that is found in many Dutch prints and is really repeated in many pictures of the same theme. Other wonderful details are a little dog scurrying along in the foreground. There are people carrying wheels of cheese, and pails of milk. So really all strata of society are on the ice getting on with business.
From The National Gallery Podcast: Episode Two, December 2006