Beelt was a versatile figure painter who worked the major part of his life in Haarlem.
North Western Europe went through a small ice age from circa 1550 until the middle of the 19th century.
Although there are a lot of 17th century Dutch winter scenes, very few actually show people ice skating in an identified town centre, such as in this painting.
About Cornelis Symonsz. Beelt
Rotterdam? circa 1610/15 – 1664/84 Haarlem or Rotterdam (old sources mention 1702 as the date of his decease)
Beelt worked the major part of his life in Haarlem. He entered the local Painter’s Guild of Saint Luke only in 1661.
He was a very versatile painter, although he was first and foremost a very good figure painter. He painted :
- landscapes, especially beach scenes with fishermen selling their catch or a crowd gathered around a stranded whale or cachelot. He also painted a few maritime subjects and very beautiful winter scenes.
- townscapes and markets;
- interiors scenes, representing either workshops of weavers and smiths influenced by Cornelis Decker, or peasant interiors under the influence of Adriaen van Ostade.
Beelt seems to have made a habit of regularly painting several different versions of important historic events. It is not known if he painted these variations on these same themes on command or if he was simply tempted by the fact that there would be enough potential clients if he was to present them onto the free market.
- We know of three versions of the annunciation of a peace treaty in the “Grote Markt” of Haarlem :
- a painting in the Rijksmuseum Amsterdam (considered there to be the Peace of Munster of 1648).
- a painting in the Hermitage Saint Petersburg (called there the Treaty of Breda of 1667).
- a painting which we sold February 2005.
- several versions of the final sea battle of the First Anglo-Dutch War, of 1653. The decisive battle was fought just off the beach of Scheveningen and watched by spectators from that same beach :
- a painting sold at Christie’s London, 7/07/08.
- a painting which we sold May 2008.
- Beelt also painted several times The departure of Charles II from that same beach of Scheveningen. This event occurred in 1660 and it is clear that Beelt borrowed some poses of figures from his earlier Sea battles seen from that same beach :
- a painting in the Rijksmuseum Amsterdam.
- a painting sold at William Doyle’s Galleries New York, 27/01/99,
which we only found a very poor quality black and white photo-
- a painting sold at Christie’s Amsterdam, 10/05/06.
- a painting which I also sold a few years ago.
About 17th century winters
North Western Europe went through a small ice age from circa 1550
until the middle of the 19th century.
The first very strong winter had been in 1564/1565.
Two thirds of the winters in the Low Countries between 1600 and 1700 were very cold with long periods of frost and snow. This explains the popularity of ice skating and its representation in paintings and engravings during the 17th century. January 1684 must have been the coldest month of that century.
We should also mention that a quarter to a third of the 17th century winters have been mild, especially in the second quarter of the century.
About the attraction of painted winter scenes
The harsh weather conditions during winter change the light, the air, the atmosphere, the colours. This must have been a first challenge for painters.
Fifty five percent of Holland lays under the level of the sea. The country was/is constantly fighting to evacuate water from the land: there are numerous rivers and canals. Frozen water ways offered people the chance to have a good time on the ice: a mix of people from all social layers would go for a stroll on the ice, others would go ice skating, go for a ride in a sledge, play kolf (the popular forerunner of ice hockey).
Merchants would set up shops on the ice. People could eat and drink in a typically Dutch “koek-en-zopie” tent. This term refers to the food and beverage that one could and still can buy while ice skating. Its best known drink was “zopie”; that was made of “bock”, which was a strong German lager, mingled with rum.
Daily life was partly transposed onto the ice: goods and passengers were ferried by sledge, instead of by carts or boats; the water supply would be ensured by a makeshift well that had been cut into the ice.
It is clear that the atmospheric conditions, the pleasures and businesses of winter formed a very attractive subject for the painters, for their clients and still do for our clients.
Painted winter landscapes had initiated in Flanders with Pieter Brueghel the Elder in the third quarter of the 16th century. Following the iconoclast riots and the Sack of Antwerp in 1576 Flemish Protestants fled in large numbers to Holland. Amongst them many painters. Hans Bol and David Vinckboons brought this new subject to Holland, especially to Amsterdam.
Seventeenth century Dutch winter landscapes can be divided in several categories according to the emphasis stressed by the painter: did he go for anecdotic, Flemish-inspired genre scenes or for a naturalistic, atmospheric, sober, sometimes monochrome approach or of course for a blend of both.
To the first group belong Hendrick and Barent Avercamp, Adriaen van de Venne, Arent Arentsz., nicknamed Cabel, the early Jan van Goyen, Isaak van Ostade, Jan and Abraham Beerstraaten, Klaes Molenaer and Thomas Heeremans.
To the second group Esaias van de Velde, monochrome works of Jan van Goyen, Salomon and Jacob van Ruysdael, Aert van der Neer and Jan van de Capelle.
Why should you buy this painting?
Because it is a very nice example of 17th century Dutch winter landscape painting, mixing the representation of three important ingredients:
- freezing atmospheric conditions
- pleasing genre scenes
- the architectural backdrop of the town centre of Haarlem.
Because it is a very rare view of ice skaters within the town centre of Haarlem. Although Haarlem specialists of ice skating scenes, such as Klaes Molenaer (Haarlem beofre 1630 – 1676 Haarlem) and Thomas Heeremans (Haarlem 1641 – 1697 Haarlem) painted a multitude of such a scenes they always painted people skating outside the town walls.
Very few 17th century Dutch winter scenes actually show a realistic view of the centre of a town, within its walls.