American Art · European Art

Skating Through Time on a Snow Day

Snow day! Who doesn’t love those words? Here in the northeastern United States, we are currently having a nice snow day, which makes it seem like a perfect time to do the second part of the winter paintings series I started around Christmas time.

While part one was about winter landscapes, part two is about ice skating paintings! Before roughly the beginning of the twentieth century, ice skating was something you could only do in the coldest months. That’s so strange to me, since I skate pretty much every day of the year. Care to look at some old-fashioned ice skating?

Pieter Brueghel the Elder (1526/1530–1569) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
“Winter Landscape with Skaters and a Bird Trap” (1565) by Pieter Brueghel the Elder Dutch artists have always been big on scenes of daily life and representations of their snowy native landscape, so they made a lot of the earliest skating paintings. I love how these people could walk out their homes and pretty much go right onto the ice. It reminds me of playing outside with other kids when I was little, but unfortunately we didn’t have any frozen streets where I lived.

Adam van Breen (circa 1585–circa 1645) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
“Skating on the Frozen Amstel River” (1601) by Adam van Breen – Here is another Dutch skating picture, this time from the seventeenth century. People look like they’re having markedly less fun than in Brueghel’s painting. However, the elaborate and colorful costumes still make this painting lots of fun to look at.

Gilbert Stuart [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
“The Skater” (1782) by Gilbert Stuart – Stuart was an American-born artist who moved to England in search of artistic fame. Apparently, this portrait of British politician Sir William Grant (1752-1832) got him exactly the sort of attention he was looking for. I love the fact that such an important man wanted to have his portrait show him on the ice. Grant looks cold and vaguely grumpy. I sympathize, because that’s exactly how I feel when people make me stop and pose endlessly for photos on the ice.


Fashion plate (1874) – The fashions may have changed greatly, but catching up on gossip with your friends while skating around in circles is still exactly the same. The caption below the illustration is in German or Dutch, which makes sense given the frosty landscape. I love these elegant and sophisticated dresses, but I wouldn’t want to skate in them.


“Two Ladies Skating in Central Park” (probably early-20th century) by Walter Granville Smith – This looks like fun! Walter Granville Smith was a successful American illustrator and painter. From what I can tell, he specialized in landscapes and paintings of fashionable people at leisure and recreation. It’s nice to see a painting of two women actively skating and enjoying themselves on the ice. I saw quite a few paintings of women sitting in sleds and letting other people push them around on the ice. The sleds were pretty, but I can’t imagine the experience was much fun.

Thank you Pinterest user Solvieg Strand for your really stellar “Vintage ice skating” board that helped me find many of these images.  Check it out for lots more, including some old photographs and advertisements. If you like vintage skating, you might also want to read this article and this post from the National Trust for Historic Preservation about historic ice rinks and rinks in converted historic buildings. I’ve only skated in one of the seven. Six more to go!

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5 thoughts on “Skating Through Time on a Snow Day

  1. Skating in that clothing gives me the shudders to think of. Not that I’m much good as a skater even with optimum clothing. The only places it can happen where I live is in skating rinks, so practice is wanting. I have always yearned have opportunities to skate on a vast frozen expanse where it can become as natural as walking.

    1. Agreed about the clothing, but I guess it’s all in what you get used to. I’ve been skating since I was little, but I’ve only been able to skate outdoors a few times. You might enjoy this great video of a girl skating at the top of a mountain in Canada: . I would love to do something like that, but I strongly suspect that after a lifetime of skating in enclosed rinks, I would get very disoriented.

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