Amsterdam-born Jan Griffier I moved to London after the Great Fire of 1666. It is believed that during his early training in the Netherlands he was apprenticed to a carpenter, a tile painter and a flower painter. It was as a pupil under the Dutch artist Roelant Roghman that Griffier developed his skills in etching and painting.
In London, Griffier studied under Jan Looten. His characteristic works of this period were small, highly polished, delicately executed city and country views. Horace Walpole, in Anecdotes of Painting in England (1888), noted that these scenes were 'executed with richness and neat colouring, and enlivened with small figures, cattle and buildings'. Walpole also identified 'mixed scenes of rivers and rich country' as Griffier's favourite subjects.
Walpole's description fits Griffier's Dutch Snow Scene with Skaters even though the proposed c.1695 date of this painting positions it later in the artist's career. Certainly, the small figures brighten the frosty lake and bank in their garments of reds, oranges and rustic browns. Like blush to a whitened cheek, the pink buildings enliven the grey snow. The horse and sleigh and hand-pulled sledge, together with those skaters depicted in motion, suggest an animation to an otherwise somnambulant and frozen townscape.
Landscapes, including winter scenes and skating scenes, recur throughout Griffier's career and are trademarks of his visual lexicon.
Today this painting hangs above a staircase at the Merchant Adventurers' Hall in York. The Hall once provided facilities for the medieval merchants of York to conduct business and socialise. It provided alms facilities and offered a chapel for worship. York was emerging as the commercial and social hub of the north by the end of the 1600s. It's possible that one of the wealthy merchants of the day purchased Dutch Snow Scene with Skaters on his travels, perhaps to London, and later presented it to the Hall.
Griffier was attached to a guild. In 1677, he was admitted as a 'free-brother' of the Company of Painter-Stainers in London and contributed a landscape painting to their hall. Griffier owned a yacht on the Thames and would sketch locations that he sailed past. On Griffier's return to Holland for a decade from 1695 – the possible year of execution of this work – his yacht was shipwrecked off the Dutch coast. Griffier returned to London, and passed away in his Millbank home at 'a good old age' of 72. His son Robert Griffier and grandson Jan Griffier II were also landscape painters.
With thanks to Captain Stephen Upright RN (Clerk to the Company) and Lauren Marshall (Hall Manager & Audience Development Officer) at the York Company of Merchant Adventurers for providing further information on this painting.
Annwen Bates, Art UK Development and Communications Officer
Horace Walpole, Anecdotes of Painting in England, 1888, pp.129–131
'Vertue Note Books I', The Walpole Society, XVIII, 1930, pp.50–51