Hendrick Avercamp was fairly known for painting outdoor sceneries with focus on the long winter days and nights in Netherlands. He was raised in Kampen and was born deaf and mute unfortunately; and thus, he was also referred to as the Kampen Mute. But he used this disability to his advantage by enhancing his other senses to be able to observe his surroundings thoroughly.
With that, he was able to execute intricate paintings that depict various activities common to the daily life of Dutch children, men and women during winter such as ice skating, men gathering and chopping woods to regulate heat in their houses and women trying to endure the freezing water as they launder clothes. His style in painting is characterized by intense colors, realistic narration in the scenes and perfect linear perspective.
Avercamp championed the deaf and the mute with his artistic excellence and significant contributions to 17th century Dutch art. Some of his major works included The Winter Landscape with Ice Skaters (1608), Winter Games on the Frozen River Ijssel (1626), A Scene on the Ice (1625), and the Scene with a Tower to the Left (1620).
Hendrick Avercamp was baptized on January 17, 1585 in Amsterdam. He was named after his grandfather on the paternal side for he was the first son of Barent Avercamp and Beatrix Peters. His family was one of the emigrants who moved to Kampen, Amsterdam.
The family provided a quite comfortable life to their six children, two of whom died though, on the salary of an apothecary. They were already in Kampen when Hendrick showed signs of being deaf and mute but this didn’t became a tremendous factor to become inept at painting. In fact, he worked hard on his skills and talents to be able to execute vivid and realistic landscape paintings.
Plus, his family was fairly well-to-do so they could afford to send him to school for his training. Hendrick obviously learned how to lip-read and then write and read texts. Since his father was a town doctor, they didn’t have the chance to move out of Kampen to Amsterdam when the plague raged the small town. Around 1602, his father died but this didn’t cause them any financial distress however his mother had to carry the family to keep going.
It was this time that his mother began working as an apothecary to replace her deceased husband. She influenced her sons to also commit to medical practice. Therefore, art historians found it quite difficult to trace where and when did Hendrick begin to get inclined to painting.
One theory about Hendrick Avercamp’s earliest art training could be attributed to his land surveying works for a town painter. Another theory is that he bought the paintings of Flemish artist Gillis van Co-ninxloo when the man’s estate was on sale around 1607. The buyer was determined as the “Mute of Kampen”, and he was just 20 years old at the time.
Also around 1607, Hendrick may have been living in the household of Pieter Isaacqs, a Danish portraitist. It is said that he received his training from the said master. But strange enough, art critics could not see the resemblance in Hendrick’s earliest paintings to the works of Isaacqs. His earliest works were rather closer to the style of Gillis Coninxloo and David Vinckbooms, both were Flemish landscape painters. This leads to a theory that Hendrick presumably studied under the said masters rather than Pieter Isaacqs.
As though Hendrick Avercamp has fully decided to devote his life to landscape painting, he left Kampen for Amsterdam albeit briefly. While he did not stay in Amsterdam over a long period of time, he still devoted the remainder of his life to painting but in Kampen since 1613 until his death in 1634. This claim has been proven to be factual by some documents; an invoice sales for a couple of horses, a writing on the back cover of his drawing and his own interment record.
Avercamp was well-known for his landscape works with scenes of daily life during winter. This choice of subject matter is attributed to the fact that he experienced long nights of harsh winters during his lifetime. In fact, Netherlands had the so-called Little Ice Age so it is not impossible for Avercamp to just ignore the effects of such a harsh climate on the lives of the locals.
The effects had been terribly felt by the people as there were long delays in the delivery of food and supplies, food scarcity due to unproductive harvest seasons, and illnesses that developed due to the freezing temperatures. The sceneries during the Little Ice Age (1607-08) however did inspire Hendrick Avercamp to paint Winter Landscape with Skaters which he completed in 1608. This painting depicts people doing some outdoor activities such as ice skating and merry-making.
Perhaps, Hendrick was glad to see the people coming out of their houses after the long winter night. That may be the perfect time to take a break and charge up under the sun. The mood of the painting is undeniably light and merry despite the dark skies hovering up above their heads.
Hendrick Avercamp was one of the few artists to have always left a signature on their paintings. However, he rarely put dates on his works that created some confusion when art collectors tried to arrange them in chronological order. This is why experts had to resort to closely observing the fashion wear and trends of the characters in the paintings to identify the time periods.
Another clue that helped the experts is the trend in the landscape styles that Hendrick used. For instance, in one of his early works, the horizon lines were broken by an edifice such as castle somewhere in the middle or corner of the horizon line. One can actually observe this in the Winter Landscape with Skaters.
After sometime, his landscape painting style changed. He now places an edifice at the corner of the frame and he somewhat lowered the line to display an endless horizon. This allowed him to add some visual depth to his works which is very evident in his Winter Landscape on the Rover Ijsel near Kampen (1615).
Most of Avercamp’s paintings depict a large group of people hibernating, playing outdoor winter activities, and the like. The painter is seated at a bird’s eye view to have a wider perspective of the setting. His styles and approach do resemble the works of his Flemish masters which then made him a successor of Flemish painting tradition.
According to art critics, his style remained consistent with Pieter Bruegel’s (Elder) landscapes. Hendrick Avercamp began with using high horizon lines in his early works and then shifted to a lowered horizon line during his middle years. Nevertheless, the paintings embody entertaining narrative vignettes that one can appreciate the typical Dutch life during winter.
Throughout his career, Hendrick Avercamp executed approximately one hundred paintings, including some drawings. His main art works can now be observed in Mauristhuis in The Hague and the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam.