Scenes of Ice and Frozen Beauty
Slippery yet solid, opaque yet translucent, ice is the universal natural phenomenon that happens when the temperature of water goes below freezing level. Whether resembling shards of broken glass or a liquidy mirror’s surface, forming huge glaciers or long jagged hanging spears, ice can be impenetrable, treacherous, or just simply lovely—and fascinating for an artist to paint.
Caspar David Friedrich’s The Sea of Ice
German Romantic painter Caspar David Friedrich’s circa 1823 The Sea of Ice is an intense and frozen scene of a wrecked ship locked within an eerie arctic landscape. Friedrich’s work was meant to depict an ill-fated voyage to the North Pole, and the boat’s ultimate yielding to vast marble-like ice slabs and ledges.
In a note of personal tragedy, Friedrich’s brother fell through lake ice and drowned when Friedrich was a teenager. An underlying tone of the fierce power of nature would find its way into many of Friedrich’s artworks, just like The Sea of Ice which—as indicated by its title—shows how this particular environment has overwhelmed man’s attempts to explore its harsh realm.
Claude Monet’s Ice Floes
The winter of late 1892 inspired French Impressionist Claude Monet to work on a group of paintings showing different icy perspectives of the Seine River. Monet’s Ice Floes and Ice Floes, Misty Morning of the same series capture a kind of dreamy ice-world surrounding by cold vapor. Monet had painted a more people-oriented, realistic Seine ice scene nearly three decades earlier as well, but his later versions better reflect his impressionistic mastery and expertly muted use of color.
Arthur Dove’s Ice and Clouds
American artist Arthur Dove was an early 20th century abstract visionary who liked to apply a concept of “extraction” to his works, or what he considered to be putting the purest essence of a scene onto canvas or paper.
Dove’s 1931 Ice and Clouds is a vivid portait of bolt-like sharp white sheets of ice capping cold deep waters. A minimum of pale gray and blue strokes suggests the ice’s slippery thickness, just as how Dove in general again uses his trademark method to make less become more, with bracing and invigorating effects.
Robert Clow Todd’s The Ice Cone, Montmorency Falls
Artist Robert Clow Todd came to Canada from England in the early half of the 19th century and lived in the Québec City area for a while. Todd’s wonderful scene entitled The Ice Cone, Montmorency Falls offers a glimpse of circa 1845 exhilarating winter activity. Rather than retreating from the cold, the ice is instead celebrated as horse-drawn sleds glide along and hunters and general outdoor enthusiasts brave formidable temperatures. More recently, Québec’s Montmorency Falls was also a setting for one of the 21st century’s Ice Hotels or Hôtels de Glace, carrying on the region’s ice-loving tradition.
Agnes Tait’s Skating in Central Park
American Agnes Tait painted her 1934 Skating in Central Park as part of the New Deal’s Public Works of Art project. Tait made firsthand observations of winter-loving crowds in New York’s Central Park, then gradually compiled her finely-detailed composition.
In Tait’s work, the ice and snow are like a frozen oasis amid an urban landscape. Beyond the notion of winter fun in the city, however, is the further realization that Skating in Central Park was done during the Great Depression—making the skaters and sledders’ escape from troubled times even more significant.
Tait’s distinct figures all engaged in a uniquely collective activity give the painting a charming complexity, just as her use of pale blues and grays, whites and violets create a sense of crisp iciness. Tait’s skill was recognized by the Hallmark Company, who soon after purchased reprint rights to the image and used it for a popular Christmas card scene.