What snow looks like through the eyes of the greatest artists

American writer, journalist and reporter for The New York Times Amy Waldman published a warm, nostalgic article about snowy winter and snow paintings by various artists.

Amy Waldman
Amy Waldman

We liked the mood and colors of this text so much that we asked our translator Marina Pavlova convey the thoughts and feelings of the writer as accurately as possible, as well as give us the opportunity to admire famous paintings, which Amy looked at from a different angle.

Make yourself a tea with aromatic herbs, grab a chocolate candy, cover yourself with your favorite blanket and enjoy reading this lyrical article.

Today, paintings depicting snowy landscapes, which were once the personification of real winter itself, evoke nostalgia, since the current winter seasons are not the same for a long time.

I want to show you pictures that evoke a wide variety of emotions at the sight of snow: from feeling small to greatness, from apprehension to calmness.

You might be interested in: Trapped in Ice: 20 Beautiful Photos Proving Winter Is a Masterpiece

Snow and blue shadows

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Rockwell Kent, Trapper (1921), Whitney Museum of American Art, New York

Last winter, when the daytime temperature warmed up to 19 degrees by noon, I saw a picture of snow on the wall of the Whitney Museum. And it wasn’t just snow: in Rockwell Kent’s Trapper (1921), we also see a lonely male figure, a dog, mountains, clouds, sky and a pale crescent.

However, it was the snow and the blue shadows playing on it that attracted me. In a dimly lit room (the twilight inside was especially noticeable against the background of the bright sun outside) the whole picture seemed to glow. I could not take my eyes off her.

Winter 2019 was one of the warmest in history, very little snow fell, so stumbling upon a picture of Kent is like seeing a photo of a long-lost loved one: recognition, delight, regret. That morning my daughter asked if it would ever snow. I knew that he would go, but I also knew that almost everywhere there was very little of him. Snow festivals have been canceled in Northern Europe. Snow was brought to the Japanese island of Hokkaido by trucks, but it probably melted quickly. Snow paintings now reflect its even greater fleetingness.

Snow from different parts of the world

Artists began painting snow since at least the 15th century, when winter landscapes and scenes began to appear in illuminated books of hours.

The most famous of them is “February”, dating from about 1412-1416 and attributed to Paul Limburgto the most “rustic” of the Dutch brothers Limburg: it is the snow lying on the sheep pen, on the dovecote and on the hives.

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“February” by the brothers Limburg (c. 1412-1416), illuminated manuscript page from The Magnificent Book of Hours of the Duke of Berry

Most of the early examples, unsurprisingly, are from Northern Europe, including the famous masterpiece Pieter Bruegel the Elder “Hunters in the Snow” 1565.

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Pieter Bruegel the Elder, Hunters in the Snow (1565); the painting is a series of six paintings depicting the seasons; located in the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna (Austria)

In Japan, snow was both a subject and a symbol in woodcut prints, with rice paper sometimes left untouched to create the appearance of white space. It turns out that such ancient works of art are a full-fledged cultural testimony of how people lived with snow and in the snow.

Look at the picture Katsushiki Hokusai “Snowy Morning on the Koishikawa River in Edo” (c. 1830-1832). Do you see how the tea pavilion seems to float among the snow-covered landscapes of a frozen world?

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Katsushika Hokusai, Snowy Morning on the Koishikawa River in Edo (c. 1830-1832). From the series “Thirty-Six Views of Fuji”

Russian landscape painter Ivan Shishkin my picture “In the wild north” (1891) even evokes a sense of fear and horror at the sight of a lonely snow-covered tree.

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Ivan Shishkin, “In the Wild North” (1891)

Snow in pictures of different directions

Artists portrayed snow in different ways, which is why our perception of snow landscapes is different. Impressionistswho survived a series of extremely cold winters were able to depict the interaction of snow, light and color, taking into account all the variety of reflections, highlights and shadows.

Claude Monet painted over 100 snowy landscapes; and although his “Magpie” was rejected by the jury of the Paris Salon in 1869 as too dull and dull, this painting is now considered his early masterpiece.

The artist very actively used blue in the shadows in Magpie, and soon blue shadows became commonplace, and so much so that Rockwell Kent stressed his “Love for blue shadows, love for the forms that cast these shadows, and the depths of space, which are also reflected in blue.”

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Claude Monet “Magpie” (1868-69), Musée d’Orsay, Paris

Half a century after Monet Wassily Kandinsky almost never used white to depict snow under the setting sun in his “Winter landscape” 1909 – in his vision, snow is an abundance of pink, blue, yellow, green and even black.

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Wassily Kandinsky, “Winter Landscape” (1909), State Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg

In these paintings, as in most other paintings, in order to capture the essence of something, it is necessary to reveal its features. At the same time, the properties of paint – density, viscosity, the ability to apply in layers – can create an imitation of snow, as, for example, in a painting of magical realism Peter Doig Coburg 3 + 1 (1994).

In Doig, snow seems to fall in front of the canvas and makes viewers visually “punch” through it to the blurry image in the background. This falling snow serves as “a kind of screen or veil of memory,” as art critic Adrian Searle said in a 2017 lecture at Christie’s.

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Peter Doig “Coburg 3 + 1” (1994)

Looking for snow

Briton Peter Doig, who spent part of his life in Canada, paints his snowy landscapes not only from photographs, but also from memory. However, for other artists, the physical difficulties of working in the frosty open air were perceived as a test of endurance, fortitude and even masculinity.

One day a passerby caught a glimpse of Monet, who painted winters not only in France, but also in Scandinavia, while working in the cold – the artist had a foot warmer, gloves and three coats, and his face was half frozen when he studied the “effect of snow” or effet de neige, as they called it impressionists. A Rockwell Kent went in search of snow to Greenland, Newfoundland, Maine, Vermont and the deserted island of Alaska, where he even spent some time with his little son.

“Drawing outdoors in Alaska,” wrote Kent in 1920 in Wildlife, his “Diary of Quiet Adventures,” “It was an extremely cold exercise — I was half-sitting in the snow; blood slowly flows in bent knees, legs go numb, fingers move weakly. The work was bearable because of the warm hut nearby and the snow itself, because it lay everywhere – and it was a real pleasure. “

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Rockwell Kent Snow Peaks. Kenai. Alaska”

I recognize myself in these words, which demonstrate a passion for the challenges that snow presents to artists. Confronting nature’s calm indifference can be motivating as well as sobering. When the snow stings and blinds, it causes anger and even rage.

Shortly after my trip to the Whitney Museum, a woman in Prospect Park told me that she was so desperate for snow. I heard words like this a lot last winter. She lacked the feeling that the city seemed to freeze for a while when it was snowing – all the houses and trees were white, no one was in a hurry, the world was paused.

I also missed this state, and I missed it. Is there a more powerful sense of comfort than sitting in a warm house and watching the falling snow through the window? The city is silent, its frantic rhythm has stopped.

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Last December, snow finally fell, a thick blanket of snow that lasted for several days, and we went outside, feeling an aching nostalgia for a shining white world, as if we had entered a picture from our past.

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