Beijing, 8 February 2014
It was snowing when we got up yesterday, the first snowfall of the season – in fact, the first time there has been any precipitation, rain or snow, in the last four months in Beijing. The city was still quiet after the Chinese New Year, so it was with pleasure that I crunched my way to work through the deserted streets and along my piece of canal, with the small, grainy snowflakes floating down around me.
And dimly through the flakes and mist, I perceived a man on the other bank of the canal slowly going through the balletic moves of tai-chi. Magic …
It kept snowing fitfully all day and into the evening, becoming greyer and foggier by the hour. So I just hurried home after work, looking forward to a welcoming wife, a cheerfully lit apartment, a glass of wine, and a plate of pasta. We closed out the world and enjoyed two French detective thrillers before retiring to bed.
This morning, the clouds had been chased away along with the fog, and the sun shone down brightly. How different the world looked! There is nothing like a coating of snow under a bright sun and a clear blue sky to make even the most squalid cityscape look inviting. On our way to morning coffee and lunch, I took a couple of photos of the canal to record the event.
OK, let’s not get carried away here. Quite soon, all that fresh snow will turn into muddy slush, making a misery for us pedestrians as we pick our way round large puddles, warily avoid being splashed by passing cars, and stay ever alert for a hidden piece of ice under our feet . And even when the snow is still fresh, the view simply cannot beat a snowscape in the mountains. My wife is a good and enthusiastic skier, and when the children were young she liked to take them skiing in the Alps. I, on the other hand, dislike skiing, so it was always with a certain grouchiness that I accompanied them on these skiing expeditions. The traffic jams to get there! The crowds at the shop to hire the gear! The astronomic cost of the ski passes! The kilometric lines to get on the ski lifts! All those peacocks parading their latest ski gear! The morons who skied far too fast down the crowded slopes! The icy wind turning my face into a piece of numb codfish! But even grouchy old me could not avoid a smile when suddenly confronted at the turning of a path with vistas of virgin white snow softly pillowing rocky hill and dale and gathering protectively around the pine trees, while the mountains glittered behind against a backdrop of a deep blue sky.
The only artist I know who has ever captured the beauty of mountains in the winter is the Austrian painter Alfons Walde. Walde was from Kitzbühel in the Tyrol, so he knew the Alps well. From the mid 1920s onwards, he painted a series of pictures of the Tyrolian Alps during winter. I show here a selection, starting with the first of his paintings I ever came across, in the form of a poster advertising a show of his works in Vienna. I still have that poster somewhere.
“The Ascent of the Skiers”, 1931
“Meadows under Snow”, 1926
Walde also liked to paint the inhabitants of the Tyrolian villages. They still wore their traditional costumes back then. There’s still a faint echo of this in Austria’s traditional jackets for men and the dirndls the women wear.
“Auracher Church”, 1927-30
“Meeting”, about 1924
I will be frank. I wouldn’t mind owning one of Walde’s paintings. But I’m not a millionaire. The best I’ve managed is a print by another Austrian artist
But hope springs eternal. You never know, I may find a Walde in my attic one day.
pix in Beijing: mine
“Ascent of the Skiers”: Alfons Walde- Der Aufstieg der Schifahrer-1931: http://shop.alfonswalde.com/WebRoot/Store/Shops/es268867/50B4/8486/F7AD/8B37/3A2E/50ED/8962/9095/Aufstieg_der_Schifahrer_1080.jpg [in http://shop.alfonswalde.com/epages/es268867.sf/de_DE/?ObjectPath=/Shops/es268867/Products/PLW35%5D
“Steinbergkogel”: http://shop.alfonswalde.com/WebRoot/Store/Shops/es268867/50B4/CA47/6775/F975/A744/50ED/8962/CB5B/PLWT36-Steinbergkogel_1080.jpg [in http://shop.alfonswalde.com/epages/es268867.sf/de_DE/?ObjectPath=/Shops/es268867/Products/PLW36%5D
“Meadows under Snow”: Alfons Walde- Almen im Schnee: https://myartmap.com/sites/default/files/walde_2.png [in https://myartmap.com/user/5189/shop%5D
“Aucherl Church”: Alfons Walder-Auracher Kircherl-1927-30: http://www.austrianfineart.at/images/largeorig/Walde-Auracher%20Kircherl-Kat.%202001.jpg [in http://www.austrianfineart.at/detailtest.php?cid=297&lang=%5D
“Meeting”: Alfons Walde-begegnung: http://alfonswalde.com/cms/wp-content/uploads/2013/05/begegnung_1080_WZ.jpg [in http://alfonswalde.com/cms/?cat=16%5D
pic of the barn in the snow: mine