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On Thin Ice

When I was in New York in the autumn, I skated at the Rockefeller Centre - something I have always wanted to do. Skating is a great form of exercise in the winter and always looks impressive... if you can stay on your feet that is! 

Here are a few of my favourite ice skating images. I must start with Sir Henry Raeburn from the 1790s, who is one of the stars of the Scottish National Gallery collection. Reverend Robert Walker Skating on Duddingston Loch, is thought to depict a minister of the Canongate Kirk and a member of the Edinburgh Skating Society, which met on the frozen lochs of Duddingston or Lochend on the outskirts of Edinburgh. It’s such a wonderful image – the dark of the minister’s clothes contrasts with the silvery gloom where ice blends into the hillside, which blends into the overcast sky. I love the detail of the patterns on the ice from previous skaters. It looks, on the one hand, faintly incongruous – someone skating in his rather severe minister’s outfit – but on the other hand, he’s so extremely elegant at the same time, in perfect control and clearly an accomplished skater keen to demonstrate his skill. 

The late 17th century was the golden era of skating pictures. It’s not surprising considering the freezing few centuries of the ‘mini ice age’ and the difficulties people must have faced against cold weather. It was the Flemish painters who did it best. The greatest Flemish master of the romantic wintry scene was Hendrick Avercamp, whose archetypal Winter Landscape with Skaters from 1608 in the Rijksmuseum in the Netherlands is just teeming with detail. There is even a man who has fallen flat on his back… no skating scene is complete without! You have to see this painting in person to take in all the tiny details, like the frozen dance that seems to be going on here – or perhaps the circle of figures are just holding hands to avoid falling over. It’s like a medieval ‘Where’s Wally?’

Finally, I would like to mention a lino print, Skaters, by Cyril Edward Power (1874-1951), an English artist celebrated for his iconic linocut prints. Power is known for his stylised sporting images. From football to folk dance, rowing to relays, his colourful composition and fluid lines perfectly translate the movement, grace and energy of sport. In his artwork Power explored all aspects of society around him in an authentically avant-garde spirit. The linocut print was introduced by the German Expressionists and promoted as a non-elitist, widely accessible new art form, whose figurative, semi-abstract language was one of radical simplification.  I love this for its exaggerated movement and exuberance.

So, this Christmas why not get out and enjoy the ice?

Blog post by Polly Leonard.



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  • Janet Whan on

    Lovely story Linda, thanks.

  • linda rodriguez on

    Loved the ice skating story! I grew up in Brooklyn and every year we would go ice skating at Rockefella Center. My grandfather would bring hot chocolate in a thermos and he would tell us “keep an eye out for the Kennedys skating”. We never saw a Kennedy. When i became an adult i realized the Kennedys did not skate with mere mortals and we would never have seen them. But it was the magic of excitement and anticipation that made it a cherished memory.


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