Hendrick Avercamp (1585-1634) was one of the first Dutch landscape painters of the 17th century. He was deaf and mute and known as de Stomme van Kampen (“the mute of Kampen”).
He is especially noted for his winter landscapes of his homeland. His landscapes are characterized by high horizons, bright clear colors, and tree branches darkly drawn against the snow or the sky. His paintings are lively and descriptive, with evidence of solid drawing skills that made him an ideal recorder of his contemporary life.
His drawings were very popular in his time, and he sold many of them (enhanced with watercolors). His landscapes have a narrative quality, telling the tale of a crowd of people walking, skating, tobogganing, golfing, selling soup, making tea – each busy with a slightly different occupation.
The high vantage point of this painting turns it into a sampler of human – and animal – activity during a harsh winter. Hundreds of people are out on the ice, most of them for pleasure, others working out of dire necessity. Avercamp did not shy away from grim details: in the left foreground crows and a dog feast on the carcass of a horse that has frozen to death.