Five winter paintings

Published 11 December 2013

From jolly Dutch skaters to austere Yorkshire landscapes, we've chosen our favourite five seasonal masterpieces to see in galleries across the UK.

1. Aert van der Neer, Winter Landscape, 1645
Ashmolean Museum, Oxford

Nothing says winter like skaters on frozen rivers, and this jovial scene by Aert van der Neer is no exception. Dominated by a crisp sky filled with billowing clouds, and framed on each side by bare birches, the scene is flooded with details of the day-to-day activities of the season: a red-coated woman carrying groceries home, a group of men playing hockey, and various individuals ice skating and sledding.

​2. JMW Turner, Frosty Morning, exhibited 1813
Tate Britain, London

Turner was so fond of this painting that he chose not to sell it, preferring to keep it for himself. It was sketched while the artist was travelling by coach in Yorkshire, then later worked up into this austere naturalistic scene. Monet, seeing the painting for the first time years after Turner's death, said that it had been painted with 'wide-open eyes', while the Spectator hailed it as 'the true tone of nature, imitated to perfection'.

3. Gustave Courbet, Trees in the Snow, about 1865
Scottish National Gallery, Edinburgh

Courbet's snowscapes are among his most unconventional paintings, shunning the depictions of people absorbed in daily activities that typified Dutch landscapes of the 17th century, and instead painting naturalistic scenes devoid of human life. Built up from thickly impastoed paint, Courbet's forest scene bristles with menace – trees emerge from the earth bank at a wayward angle, their forms barely contained within the confines of the canvas.

4. Caspar David Friedrich, Winter Landscape, probably 1811
National Gallery, London

Friedrich's landscapes were often religious allegories, as in this moody snow scene. In the foreground, a disabled figure has abandoned their crutches and prays before a crucifix, while the silhouette of a fantastical Gothic cathedral looms from the receding mists. The work is often understood as representing salvation through Christianity, with the cathedral symbolising the promised afterlife.

​5. Camille Pissarro, Snowy Landscape at Eragny with an Apple Tree, 1895
Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge

This winter scene by the great Danish-French landscape artist is a work of startling movement and economy, rendering a tree-filled park near Eragny – the Parisian commune that dominated Pissarro's later works – with a few choice brushstrokes. It was painted in Pissarro's Neo-Impressionist period, and shows the influence of Georges Seurat and Paul Signac, whom Pissarro had met in 1885.

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