A canal or river has frozen over, trapping boats and providing an opportunity for many social classes to mingle on the ice. Gentlemen and ladies greet one another, ride a horse-drawn sleigh, and rent skates alongside humbler villagers. A group of men play kolf, a golf-like game. A man at lower right looks out, as if inviting us to join in the festivities.
Hendrik Avercamp, known in his day as the “Mute of Kampen” because of his deafness, was one of the first Dutch artists to specialize in winter scenes. His paintings typically feature low horizon lines where land blends into heavy skies, emphasizing the flatness of the Dutch landscape. He included many amusing anecdotes and details in this painting, from the man relieving himself behind a tree (the outhouse is already occupied) to distant skaters who have fallen on the ice. But even while some play, work continues for others: look for several people who are going about their business, including preparing to go ice fishing and filling buckets with fresh water.