KLAES MOLENAER (Haarlem 1628/1629 – Haarlem 1676)
A Winter Landscape with Numerous Figures on a Frozen River Outside the Town Walls
signed k. molenaer in the lower left
oil on panel
13 x 17 inches (33 x 43 cm.)
Anonymous Sale, Christie’s, New York, June 18, 1982, lot 106 where bought by
Private Collection, New York, until the present time
Outside the old stone walls of a Dutch town a frozen river is filled with skaters and sledges. In the foreground on a bank of frozen grass a lone seated spectator wearing a fur-trimmed red cap watches the scene. The flow on the ice commences in the lower left with a kneeling boy adjusting his skate near groups of townsfolk conversing around a horse-drawn sledge. A father and his young daughter stand at the heart of the scene alongside the sledge’s snow-white horse. As the river proceeds into the distance the groups of skaters thin out but remain visible into the farthest depths of the composition, well past the isolated house of the right background. A single exiting figure is visible in the passageway of the stone walls. The bare ground and rooftops of the town are flecked with snow. The sky is a wintry mix of white, grey and purple.
Molenaer has adeptly captured the reflection of a winter’s day in mid-seventeenth century Holland. The start of the action at the painting’s edge, as well as the placement in the center foreground of an empty bench creates visual markers for observation and participation within the scene. The low vantage point of the composition combined with the sharp diagonal across the foreground which leads the eye to the distant and equally low horizon point serve to further this feeling of immediate accessibility. The artist’s employment of red accents in the clothing of the figures again draws the eye through the scene and onto the open ice. Even the frozen tree branches of the foreground all sway to the right paralleling the foot traffic, while the branches in the middle ground which frame both sides, point towards the distant horizon. Through the artist’s technical virtuosity viewer and subject are melded.
Klaes Molenaer is best known for his winter scenes. These works reflect the influence of his contemporary and fellow Haarlem artist Jacob van Ruisdael as well as Isaak van Ostade. The youngest of seven siblings, he is the brother of the artists Bartholomeus and Jan Miense Molenaer. He specialized in landscapes and genre, which included beach scenes, river views and peasant gatherings in taverns and villages. His early works show the influence of Jan van Goyen and he is thought to have studied with Salomon van Ruysdael. He joined the Guild of St. Luke in Haarlem in 1651. He was particularly skillful at depicting and recording contemporary Dutch life, with his most notable pupils being Nicolas Piemont and Thomas Heeremans. 
 Biographical information taken from E. Benezit, “Klaes Molenaer” in Dictionnaire des Peintres, Sculpteurs, Dessinateurs et Graveurs, vol. 7, Libraire Gründ, 1976, p. 462; Homan Potterton, “Klaes Molenaer” in Dutch Seventeenth and Eighteenth Century Paintings in the National Gallery of Ireland, 1986, pp. 95-96; and Görel Cavalli-Björkman, “Nicolaes Molenaer” in Dutch and Flemish Paintings II, Nationalmuseum, Stockholm, 2005, p. 328.