Winter threatens in Wouwerman’s little picture. Clouds tower up. An old man crouches in the undergrowth, gathering faggots (twigs bound up to make a fire). Behind him, a woman sits with her back to him, facing the weather and nursing a baby bundled up against the cold. A gnarled tree sheds its few leaves – its branches quiver in the rising wind – and a dog sniffs after rabbits.
The white horse on the skyline dominates, its mottled coat gleaming in the dying light. Its mane is windswept and its pose awkward – Wouwerman has painted it urinating. Its tack is simply rope instead of leather and the wooden saddle looks heavy, held on with thin rope. The picture shows the endurance of animals and people alike against the bleak Dutch landscape, and was probably designed to hang in the warmth of a town house, perhaps as a comfort or perhaps as a moral message.
There are a number of paintings by Philips Wouwerman in the National Gallery’s collection, several of them featuring his characteristic white horses – A Horse being Shod outside a Village Smithy for instance, or Two Horsemen at a Gipsy Encampment, One having his Fortune Told.
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