l'effet de neige
Christmas falls in the Winter, which, for the Northern Hemisphere, is a fairly chilly period. With the cold, comes snow (..eventually). And with snow, comes cosy evenings spent inside, reading books and blogs, about music, and history, and art. Thanks to Philip Wilson's wonderful folio on Impressionists in Winter, this article encompasses all of these ideas, so mull some wine, plonk down in a green velvet armchair, and absorb the sublime effet de neige.
The history of snowscapes in European painting reaches back at least as far as the Limbourg Brothers' Les Tres Riches Heures du duc de Berry of about 1415. Of course, winter landscapes with snow often play a part in paintings that depict the cycle of the four seasons, especially in Northern European painting of the seventeenth century. Indeed, as Wolfgang Stechow has observed:
"In many ways the winter landscape is the Dutch seventeenth-century landscape par excellence. Here there is no competition from Italy or France, and little from Flanders, although Flemish sixteenth century antecedents were of decisive importance in its genesis. There is not even much competition in later centuries, with the exception of some works by Caspar David Friedrich, Claude Monet and a few others."
Stechow's subtle nod to the Impressionists is probably the first acknowledgment by a major scholar that the winter landscapes of the Impressionists constitute a significant accomplishment. As this exhibition indicates, Monet and several of his colleagues produced a body of work that is at least the equal of seventeenth-century Dutch winter landscapes. Other than the often-reproduced image of the page illustrating the month of ‘February’ in Les Tres Riches Heures du duc de Berry, the best known early snowscape is Pieter Brueghel's Hunters in the Snow, from 1565. With extraordinary accuracy, the painter captured the light, atmosphere, and feeling of a winter landscape not long after a snowfall. The colour of the overcast sky, the quiet, the atmosphere, and the sensation of tranquillity that pervades the landscape seem remarkably accurate. Moreover, the landscape is imbued with an unmistakable beauty that is the result of the snow. As much as the hunting party, the village, and the panoramic view of the valley, the subject of the painting is the transforming effect of the snow.