Hendrick Avercamp (c. 1585–1634)
Hendrick Avercamp was born in Amsterdam in a house located on Dam Square, next to the Royal Palace. He was baptised on 27 January 1585 as the eldest son of Barent Avercamp and Beatrix Vekemans. In 1586, the Avercamp family moved to Kampen, where Hendrick would spend most of his life. The move was prompted by his father who was appointed town apothecary. Beatrix gave birth to another six children in Kampen, two of whom died. The family was learned: Hendrick’s brothers became physicians and apothecaries while his grandfather and uncle were headmasters of a prestigious Latin school. With such a cultured background, it is likely that Hendrick received a good education. The family remained in Kampen for many years. At some point they moved back to Amsterdam, but soon returned to Kampen upon the urging of the town council as many citizens were succumbing to the plague which ravaged the Netherlands in the first half of the seventeenth century. Soon after assuming the role of town doctor, Barent himself became a victim of the plague. Although his death did not place a financial strain on the Avercamp family; Beatrix wished to carry on the work of her husband. She received permission from the town council to assume the work of her husband and trained her growing sons in the apothecary practice.
Avercamp’s introduction to art arose locally, from a town painter who may have dabbled in landscape painting, but who died young of the plague. Around 1607, Hendrick went to Amsterdam where he studied and lived with the Danish born portrait painter Pieter Isaacks (1569-1625). His style did not resemble that of his teacher, but seems closer to that of landscape painters Gillis van Coninxloo III (1544-1607) and David Vinckboons (1576-c. 1632), both of whom were active in the city. Based solely on stylistic and formal evidence, it is likely that Avercamp learnt from one or both of these painters but no documentation of his apprenticeship is known to have survived.
By January 28, 1613, Avercamp had returned to Kampen dedicating himself almost entirely to painting winter scenes. He lived at his mother’s house until the day of his death on May 15, 1634. In her will, written at the end of 1633, Beatrix Vekemans stipulated that in addition to the legal portion, her son was to receive an annuity of 100 carolus guilders. Avercamp had several students in his career such as his nephew Barent Avercamp (1612-1679), Dirk Hardenstein II (1620-1674) and Arent Arentsz (1585-1631). Each student of his took on his style, depicting the Netherlands in winter.
Hendrick Avercamp pioneered winter landscape painting as an independent genre. His meticulous style captured the harshness of life during the Little Ice Age: a climatic phenomenon characterised by extremely harsh winters, where Dutch waterways regularly froze. Avercamp took interest in crowds of people frolicking on the ice and engaging in a wide range of activities on frozen canals and waterways, like ice skating or sleigh riding. As well as providing insight into the social scene, among both the peasant and the wealthy class, his attention to detail combined with the anecdotal quality of his minutely intricate paintings and his careful observation of lighting led to his paintings being highly praised. Avercamp left an extensive legacy of drawings, which he worked up with watercolor and occasionally gouache, generally depicting polder and river landscapes as well as ice scenes. He also made studies of craftsmen, fishermen, peasants and gentry, some of which he used in his compositions. Some idea of his productivity can be gauged by the claim by the marine painter Jan van de Cappelle (1626-1679) who lists no fewer than 883 drawings and sketches by him in his 1680 inventory.
Roelofs, Pieter. Hendrick Avercamp: Master of the Ice Scene. Amsterdam, 2010.
Bikker, Jonathan. ‘Hendrick Avercamp: the mute of Kempen’. In Hendrick Avercamp: Master of the Ice Scene, Pieter Roelofs (ed.),
Amsterdam, 2010, 11-21.
Blankert, Albert. ‘Hendrick Avercamp’. On Dutch painting, 2004, 127-146; 324-326.
Bertrand, Pascale, Davidson, Lisa and Michael Hoyle. The Dawn of the Golden Age: Northern Netherlandish Art, 1580-1620. Paris, 1993.
Blankert, Albert. Doortje Hensbroek-van der Poel, and Rudolph Krudop. Hendrick Avercamp. Frozen Silence: Paintings from Museums and Private Collections. Amsterdam,1982.