Winter Landscapes in Art

Here I look at some of my favourite ways artists have captured winter landscapes in art through the ages.

Northern Renaissance

It’s the rich earthy colours that pop out from the white of the snow that makes this painting so memorable for me. The stories in this painting fascinate me. The figures trudging through the snow back from an unsuccessful hunt. The busyness around the fire. And the skaters on a sheets of ice that mirror the colour of the sky.

The Japanese Influence

Winter landscapes in art are a common theme in Japan. Jump forward three centuries when Hiroshige painted the winter scene; ‘Evening snow on the Askua Mountain’.

Evening snow on the Askua  Mountain by Hiroshige, 1830- 1841

To me there is a quiet to this painting that is felt when a landscape is blanketed with snow. The figures hunker silently under their umbrellas, sheltering from the gently falling snow. The monochromatic gradient to illustrate the darkening winter sky, is reflected in the foreground and in the gentle dips between the hills. I love the restraint Hiroshige uses to depict what little we can see of the trunks and branches of the trees. 

European Impressionists

The art work of Japanese artists such as Hiroshige were admired by their European contemporaries such as Vincent van Gogh and Claude Monet. Perhaps we can see an influence in van Goghs’ sketch ‘The Church in Nuenen in Winter’ (1883). Like Japanese calligraphy, the crowns of the trees are etched on the page.

winter landscapes in art. drawing by van Gogh titled The Church in Nuenen in winter.
The Church in Nuenen in Winter by Vincent van Gogh, 1883

But the way Monet paints his snow in ‘The Magpie’ thirty years after Hiroshiges  ‘Evening snow on the Askua Mountain’, could not be more different. 

Winter landscapes in art. Painting by Monet titled The Magpie. Monet closely observed the light and texture of snow.
The Magpie by Claude Monet, 1869

In this painting I feel I can scoop up Monets’ snow in my hands to make snowballs! So what is it that makes Monets’ snow so realistic? Monet has carefully observed and studied the light and texture of snow. As part of the Impressionist movement, he used a physical approach to laying down the paint while at the same time used layers of tone and colour. Nowadays we are used to seeing snow represented this way. But it was in fact Monets’ use of blue, violet and mauve to indicate shadows in snow that was a first in art history. 

Getting Abstract

Winter landscapes in art, painting by Kandinsky titled Winter Landscape
Winter Landscape by Wassily Kandinsky, 1909

Kandinsky painted ‘Winter Landscape’ in the Post-Impressionist style . Later he would go on to develop much more abstract works than this. In this interpretation of a winter landscape, I can still recognise some similarities to the other works we have looked at. For instance, the treatment of the brush marks are expressive like Monets’. The black spindly trees cutting through the landscape in a similar way to Bruegels and Hiroshiges. The colour palette may seem radical for a winters scene. But the artist is capturing an “impression” of a sun set. The sky filled with yellows, pinks and Monets’ mauves, are echoed in the snow on the ground. And these colours are made more vivid by the contrasting dark colours of the shadowy mountains. What an exciting winter landscape this is!