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Jan van Goyen, 'A Scene on the Ice', 1645

Key facts
Full title A Scene on the Ice by a Drinking Booth; A Village in the Distance
Artist Jan van Goyen
Artist dates 1596 - 1656
Date made 1645
Medium and support Oil on oak
Dimensions 25.2 × 34 cm
Inscription summary Signed; Dated
Acquisition credit Salting Bequest, 1910
Inventory number NG2579
Location Not on display
Collection Main Collection
Previous owners
A Scene on the Ice
Jan van Goyen

The cold is almost tangible in Jan van Goyen’s evocation of life on the ice in a seventeenth-century Dutch winter. The horizon is low and the sky vast, so we are on a level with the people portrayed. A bank of grey cloud hovers overhead, just moving enough to let in the pale sun and allow a glimmer of reflection on the frozen river.

It’s an imaginary place, perhaps built up from the drawings van Goyen made in his many sketchbooks. The distant church spire and the windmill are unidentified – just typical Dutch buildings that could be seen anywhere. Rather than showing colourful incidents to entertain the viewer, van Goyen’s picture evokes an atmosphere: his tiny image is an elegy to winter. The colours are muted and swiftly painted, making the distant figures little more than grey outlines, almost like ghosts passing in the mist.

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