Picture of the month

Hendrick Avercamp, 'A Winter Scene with Skaters near a Castle', about  1608–9 

Hendrick Avercamp’s A Winter Scene with Skaters near a Castle of about  1608–9 shows a busy winter landscape, full of detail.

The unusual circular format of the painting gives an intimacy to this townscape, showing people from all walks of life, going about their business, playing or chatting on the ice. The buildings, and the scattering of people across the ice, draw your eye around the painting, to the fallen skaters; the snow on the rooftops; and the reflections in the ice.

Avercamp invented the prominent castle in the background, but based the groups of people on watercolours that he sketched. The artist clearly delights in the details of social life; but the branches, dotted with birds, that ornament the sky, show his pleasure in pattern. Pinkish white tones appear throughout the painting, and unite the many elements of the scene.

Avercamp, who was deaf and mute, lived in Kampen and his paintings, a number of which are in the Royal Collection, reflect the extreme coldness of winters in Holland. His monogram - H. A. - lies at the foot of the tree stump in the foreground.