In this almost monochromatic landscape, Danish artist Laurits Andersen Ring captures the moody silence of a cold winter’s day in his home village. Thin light breaks through grey clouds, which hang heavily over a small village blanketed in snow. The snow on the road has become dirty, grey, and slushy, partially exposing the hard, brown soil beneath. A row of lifeless trees and hedgerow mark a boundary between identical stretches of untouched, white snow.
We are looking at an unassuming and straightforward winter scene in the tiny Zealand village of Baldersbrønde, near Copenhagen.
There is quiet nobility to the tidy houses, well-ordered trees, and functional road, but the space is eerily empty. The ruts of wheels show that carts have been this way, yet the inhabitants of Baldersbrønde are nowhere to be seen. There are no lights in the windows of the houses or smoke from the chimneys. It is almost as though the village has been deserted.
A skilled exponent of a cool and analytical realism, Ring was one of the foremost Danish painters of the turn of the 20th century, and lived in Baldersbrønde for 10 years. He painted many scenes of diagonal roads, village houses, and poplar trees, although few as sparse as this.
Detail from Laurits Andersen Ring, ‘Road in the Village of Baldersbrønde (Winter Day)’, 1912 The National Gallery, London
Caspar David Friedrich was born in Pomerania, then part of Sweden. He studied at the University of Greifswald and the Copenhagen Academy. He settled in Dresden, and associated with its circle of Romantic scholars and poets. He often visited his homeland and toured Germany.
Friedrich established a reputation for landscape drawings and sepias before painting in oils. He was elected to the Berlin Academy in 1810, the Dresden Academy in 1816. In 1824 he was appointed Associate Professor of Landscape Painting at the Dresden Academy.
He combined landscape motifs with religious symbolism, and ‘Winter Landscape’ represents the hope for salvation through the Christian faith. In the foreground a crippled man has abandoned his crutches and sits against a rock with his hands raised in prayer before a crucifix. The rocks and evergreen trees may be interpreted as symbols of faith, and the visionary Gothic cathedral emerging from the mist evokes the promise of life after death.
Detail from Caspar David Friedrich, ‘Winter Landscape’, probably 1811 The National Gallery, London. #nationalgallery#artist#painting#art#arthistory#artgallery#artmuseum#gallery#museum#oilpainting#fineart#winterscene#snowscene#snow#winter#friedrich#caspardavidfriedrich
In this unusual rendering of the Adoration by Pieter Bruegel the Elder, the Three Kings presenting their gifts are treated as caricatures and the Virgin is not idealised. The work is composed from a high viewpoint, focusing attention on the Infant Christ on his mother's lap, at the exact centre of the picture. People crowd around them and there is little sense of depth or space. The elongated figures of the Kings are characteristic of a painting style that was fashionable around this time.
A figure on the extreme right wears spectacles. His presence may indicate that those around Christ are blind to his significance; Bruegel has used spectacles on other occasions to signify in an ironic manner the inability of the subject to see the truth. Most of the figures, in fact, appear to be gently mocked by the artist.
Look closely and you’ll see Balthazar’s spectacular gift: a green nautilus-like shell encased in gold and transformed into a ship. This kind of gift is indicative of the taste of a wealthy contemporary patron.
Detail from Pieter Bruegel the Elder, ‘The Adoration of the Kings’, 1564 The National Gallery, London. #nationalgallery#artist#painting#arthistory#artgallery#artmuseum#gallery#museum#oilpainting#adoration#adorationofthekings#thethreekings#christ#pieterbruegeltheelder
‘A Personification of Fame’ is a relatively late work, probably from the early years of Bernardo Strozzi's Venetian period, about 1635-6. It is a far from idealised study of a girl in a darkened setting, equipped with the wings that Fame traditionally possesses. The light falls brightly from the left, highlighting the inquiring face of the sitter and details of her costume, which shows to advantage the distinctive handling of the painter.
In representations of Fame the figure usually holds a single trumpet, or two of different lengths, symbolising good and ill fame. The significance of the two instruments represented in Strozzi's painting, a golden trumpet and a wooden shawm, is unclear.
Detail from Bernardo Strozzi, ‘A Personification of Fame’, probably 1635-6 The National Gallery, London #nationalgallery#artist#painting#arthistory#artgallery#artmuseum#gallery#museum#oilpainting#fineart#fame#bernardostrozzi
Seen in the centre of this photograph is Guido Reni’s ‘The Toilet of Venus’, which hangs in Room 32.
Venus, the goddess of love, is attended by three Graces who fasten Venus’s sandals and jewellery. In the foreground, Cupid holds up Venus’s pearl earrings, while at top left a putto arranges flowers in a vase.
Several versions of this composition are known and this painting was long thought to be a copy made in Reni’s studio. However, recent conservation treatment has revealed far more of Reni’s hand at work than had previously been visible. The feathery brushstrokes on the central Grace’s arm, for example, are typical of Reni’s style. Visible changes to the picture’s design, such as the traces of pink drapery on Venus’s belly, show the artist working out his design. Infrared reflectography revealed more substantial changes, such as the addition of the putto at top left over a previously painted architectural scheme. These substantial changes, made during the painting process, not only strengthen the argument that this is the original composition on which other versions are based, but also tally with contemporary accounts that Reni delayed delivery of the painting in order to add in an entirely new figure.
Photo taken by Ellie in the Social Media team. #nationalgallery#artist#painting#arthistory#artgallery#artmuseum#gallery#museum#oilpainting#fineart#guidoreni#reni#toiletofvenus#venus#cupid
Claude Monet spent most of the 1870s in the town of Argenteuil, which is on the Seine just to the north-west of Paris. During this period, leisure activities such as boating made the town increasingly popular with day-trippers from the capital. The exceptionally snowy winter of 1874-5 inspired Monet to paint 18 views of Argenteuil under the snow. Many of them, like this work, focus on the boulevard Saint-Denis where Monet was living.
The scene shows the boulevard running towards the Seine, looking away from the railway station. It is a relatively large work, which sacrifices details in favour of atmosphere. Its predominantly monochrome palette of blues and greys conveys to perfection the bleakness of an overcast winter's afternoon.
Detail from Claude Monet, ‘Snow Scene at Argenteuil’, 1875 The National Gallery, London. #nationalgallery#artist#painting#art#arthistory#artgallery#artmuseum#gallery#museum#oilpainting#fineart#claudemonet#monet#snowscene#snow#paris#argenteuil