Winter Magic

And we’re back! Today on Museum Bites we’re kicking off the New Year (new decade!) with a taste of winter magic. Join me for a closer look at three paintings that capture the splendor of our chilliest season. We begin in Norway…

Norwegian Holiday:  Our first wintery painting is Claude Monet’s (1840-1926), Sandvika, Norway (1895). Through the haze of snowfall, Monet captures the quaint village of Sandvika. The town’s red buildings and awnings pop against an ice-blue Mount Kolsaas looming in the background. In the foreground, fluffy pink trees and an iron bridge, sporting a Hobbit-like curve are a whimsical delight.

Sandvika, Norway (1895) by Claude Monet, AIC, Photo by cjverb (2019)
Sandvika, Norway (1895) by Claude Monet, Art Institute of Chicago, Photo by cjverb (2019)

Monet painted this enchanting scene while visiting his youngest stepson, Jacques Hoschedé (1869-1941) in Christiania (modern-day Oslo). Hoschedé gave Monet a tour of the local sites, including Sandvika—where the iron bridge still stands today. Captivated by the wintery landscape, Monet was anxious to break out his brushes and paints. During his two-month stay, he completed 29 paintings and six of these works are of Sandvika.

If you’d like to feast your eyes on more of Monet’s paintings, click on this Claude Monet link, courtesy of Google Arts & Culture. If you’d like to learn more about Monet and his fellow rabble rousers, the Anonymous Society of Painters, Sculptors, and Printmakers, click on this Museum Bites: Coloring Outside the Lines link.

Fun Bridge-y Fact:  Claude Monet was a bit of a bridge fanatic. Starting in 1895, the same year he visited Sandvika, Monet had not one but four Japanese bridges built for his gardens. Monet lore states he was inspired by the curved bridges featured in Japanese woodblock prints, namely Utagawa Hiroshige’s Kameido Tenjin Shrine (1856). Perhaps the Sandvika iron bridge had an influence too. Monet’s bridges have been immortalized in his series of Japanese bridge and water lily paintings.

Flemish Countryside:  Our next painting, Winter Landscape (after 1611) by Gysbrecht Leytens (1586-1656) is as advertised, a snowy, 17th-century Flemish countryside featuring an enchanted forest on the left and a narrow, peaky manor on the right. Despite the cold, tiny figures chop and tote firewood, while their neighbors cast a line in the hopes of catching dinner. Above them, massive, Ent-like trees create a spooky tunnel to the water.

Winter Landscape (after 1611) by Gijsbrecht Leytens, DIA, Photo by cjverb (2020)
Winter Landscape (after 1611) by Gijsbrecht Leytens, Detroit Institute of Arts, Photo by cjverb (2020)

Gysbrecht Leytens was until recently, unknown. His work was either attributed to his fellow Flemish painters or the mysterious, Master of Winter Landscapes. Leytens may have fancied crafting spectacular scenery, but he was not keen on painting people. Instead, he commissioned other artists to paint the tiny figures in his work.

Winter Landscape with Woodcutters by Gijsbrecht Leytens, National Gallery in Prague, Wikimedia Commons
Winter Landscape with Woodcutters by Gijsbrecht Leytens, National Gallery in Prague, Wikimedia Commons

Leytens’s hazy style and magnificent trees have been replicated throughout his paintings. Note the similarities between Winter Landscape and Winter Scene with Woodcutters (date unknown). If you’d like to view more of Leytens work, click on this Gysbrecht Leytens link, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Frozen Landscape by Denny Sonke Winters, GRAM, Photo by cjverb (2019)
Frozen Landscape by Denny Sonke Winters, Grand Rapids Art Museum, Photo by cjverb (2019)

Frozen Wonder:  Our final wintery painting is by the multitalented Denny Sonke Winters (1905-1985). Frozen Winter (no date) features vibrant splashes of icy blue and snow white with a smattering of gold and black mixed in. Feast your eyes on Frozen Winter and you’ll feel the energy flowing through this painting. Is the artist portraying a blustery sky? A turbulent sea? A horse galloping at breakneck speed? Or something completely different? You decide! That’s the beauty of abstract art.

Ruby “Denny” Sonke was born and raised in Grand Rapids, Michigan. She studied at the Art Institute of Chicago and Chicago Academy of Fine Arts. After receiving her degree she traveled the world and applied her talent to a variety of professions including costume and set designer, ceramicist, etcher, illustrator, lithographer, painter, and teacher. If you’d like to learn more about her amazing life, click on this Smithsonian Archives of American Art Oral History Interview with Denny Winters link. If you’d like to view more of her art, click on this Denny Sonke Winters link courtesy of AskArt.

That wraps up our look at winter’s magic. Next week I’ll be back with more Museum Bites. Until then, have a warm and cozy week!

Snowflake, Photo by Moona Tarvainen, Pixabay-100px Cover photo by Moona Tarvainen, courtesy of Pixabay.


Art Institute of Chicago (AIC)

Art Institute of Chicago: Sandvika, Norway (1895) by Claude Monet

AskArt: Denny Winters

Claude Monet Gallery

Detroit Institute of Arts (DIA)

Grand Rapids Art Museum (GRAM)

Google Arts & Culture: Claude Monet

Held, J.S. (1982) Flemish & German Paintings of the 17th Century, Collections of the Detroit Institute of Arts

Museum Bites: Coloring Outside the Lines

National Gallery of Art: Claude Monet’s Japanese Footbridge


Smithsonian American Art Museum: Denny Winters

Smithsonian Archives of American Art: Oral History Interview with Denny Winters (1980)

TheArtStory: Claude Monet

Web Gallery of Art: Gysbrecht Leytens

Wikimedia Commons

Wikimedia Commons: Gysbrecht Leytens

WorthPoint: Denny Winters

University of Maine Digital Commons: Denny Winters


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