Snow scenes have always been a popular subject for artists. Both land- and cityscapes are often portrayed enveloped in snowy white. The Impressionists, inspired by the very cold winters of their age, also brought winter motifs to their canvases. Here, Claude Monet depicts a provincial train station in the small French town of Argenteuil, near Paris, in an atmospheric winter light in 1875.
Impressionists typically used reflected light, play of shadows, and a nuanced palette. Three years before Monet, Camille Pissarro painted this wintry village landscape. These two paintings are part of the "Light Drifts - Winter in Impressionism" show at the Arp Museum in Remagen, Germany. Monet's painting particularly suits the setting, as the museum is located in an old train station.
Pissarro painted this suburban Parisian avenue scene in 1879, showing people rushing down the streets and sidewalks in the rain and snow. Viewers can almost feel the cold and damp and sense the movements of the figures. Pissarro also drew inspiration from the new medium of photography.
The Impressionist painters recognized the possibilities that photography opened up. They cherished photographic works by Eugène Cuvelier, created in the Fontainebleau forest. Artists working in the different media of photography, painting and drawing all influenced each other, as is evident from the photographs that hang beside the paintings in the Arp Museum exhibition.
Winter practically emanates from Vincent van Gogh's "Snow-Covered Field with a Harrow" from 1890. It was painted in the year of the artist's death, while he was in the Saint-Rémy mental hospital in France. Van Gogh, who was burdened by ongoing financial problems, shot himself in a wheat field the following summer.
Many German artists were also inspired by the French Impressionists' interaction with snow and ice. Christian Rohlfs painted this "Waldweg im Winter" ("Forest Path in Winter") in 1889. Rohlfs studied at the School of Arts in Weimar, which was open to the avant-garde artists of the time. He studied the French painters on visits to Paris, but later turned to Expressionism.
For Monet, the depiction of white was a tremendous challenge. In Norway he studied snow-covered landscapes and painted using unparalleled layered effects. The finest shadings evoked surprising associations in the viewer. Monet painted outdoors, at temperatures of 20 degrees below zero Celsius (-4 degrees Fahrenheit). His Norway winter scenes were never exhibited during his lifetime.
Edvard Munch painted his snow pictures not in his native Norway, but in Germany. Munch was a sensitive individual who vacillated between alcoholism and manic-depression. His illnesses led to rehab and health treatment in Germany's Thuringian Forest in 1906, where he painted "Winter Landscape, Elgersburg." His clear contours and powerful colors are suggestive of later artistic styles.
Max Slevogt is regarded as one of the German Impressionists. He continued to develop his style over the years, well into the 20th century. In the 1920s he lived with his family on an old estate in the southern Palatinate region, where he painted numerous snow and winter landscapes. He would watch the change of seasons from his balcony. In this image, he depicts the first snow in late autumn.
In the "Light Drifts" exhibition, the museum in Remagen, near Bonn, doesn't simply display works of art: it also places them in an interdisciplinary context. It depicts the winter images through the lens of climate history. The show runs through to April 14, 2013.
Wintery themes have inspired artists for hundreds of years. Landscapes drenched in white have a fanciful quality, as an Arp Museum exhibition shows.