Andreas Schelfhout's ice scenes and summer landscapes were very popular during his lifetime. He painted them carefully, with great technical sophistication and a strong sense of anecdotal detail. He could portray the dry frost of a winter day and the sweet atmosphere of a summer landscape like no other. Sometimes his works were furnished by cattle painter Pieter Gerardus van Os. Schelfhout, together with Barend Cornelis Koekkoek, is the Netherlands' most important romantic landscape painter and had many pupils, including Charles Leickert, Lodewijk Johannes Kleijn, Nicolaas Roosenboom and, surprisingly, also the innovative impressionist Johan Barthold Jongkind.
Schelfhout was already 24 years old and the father of two children when he left his father's gilding and framing shop in 1811 to make the transition from artisan to free artist. To this end he was apprenticed to Joannes Breckenheijmer. This taught him the rules of perspective and prompted him to study the great masters of the 17th century, including in the picture gallery of Stadtholder Willem V at the Buitenhof. It is not known whether he saw work by Hendrick Avercamp and Aert van der Neer there, but in 1812 he painted his first winter face. In 1818, at the Exhibition of Living Masters in Amsterdam, he received the first rave reviews of a winter scene, a genre that was relatively unknown until then. Then it went uphill with his career. Schelfhout's success was largely due to his ice scenes. Initially he relied heavily on 17th-century examples for this genre. His brushstroke is somewhat stiff, the light steel-colored and smooth and the figures are reminiscent of cut-out stickers, because a refined play of light and shadow is still lacking. Gradually schelfhout got more daring and he based himself more on his own nature study. From the mid-1930s, presumably under the influence of his pupil and son-in-law Wijnand Nuyen, his brush loosened and the atmospheric winter and ice scenes were created that mark his peak years. Schelfhout made use of refined composition schemes and a large stock of motifs that he varied and applied in varying combinations, such as a cookie-en-zopie with the national tricolor in the top, some talking figures around a push sled, frozen barges, a horse with a sled, a house or mill on the left or right and a group of two or three swinging skaters. The idea that Schelfhout is primarily an ice painter is incorrect: seascapes, summer landscapes - including panoramas, beach and dune views, heather landscapes and forest and river views - form an essential and varied part of his oeuvre. In addition, he even made a dog portrait and a cityscape a few times. Especially in the summer, changing light and shadow areas play an important role.
In the 19th century, Andreas Schelfhout was one of the first painters to focus on the Dutch sea and beach scene, thereby contributing to a revaluation of this genre in his time. From 1824 he regularly painted scenes of the beach of Scheveningen, with fishermen, and later also with flaneurs. His interest in the beach scene was aroused by 17th-century navies in The Hague's Royal collections and works by French, German and English contemporary painters. After a trip to France in 1833, presumably prompted by his later son-in-law and painter Wijnand Nuijen, Schelfhout especially gained great admiration for the work of Eugène Isabey, from which he drew inspiration for his beaches and seascapes. Schelfhout has played an important role in the transformation and prestige of this genre with his 'beaches'. As a result, he had a great influence on later artists, especially the painters of the Hague School. Schelfhout sometimes brings forward the figures in his paintings in his works, whereby not only the landscape, but also the narrative character of the performance is emphasized. In his beach views, he tells about the animated bustle around a fish auction, with fishermen and interested buyers walking back and forth. With elegantly walking figures, he tells about carefree entertainment on a beautiful spring day. Schelfhout's paintings also show the development of the rise of modern bathing culture; from the late 1940s onwards, colorfully dressed flaneurs can sometimes be seen on his 'beaches'.
Schelfhout lived in The Hague all his life; the surrounding landscape and nearby Scheveningen offered him a lot of material for painting. He did, however, make a number of national and international trips to learn about art developments abroad and to expand his painting motifs by means of nature studies. He filled countless sketchbooks with studies of nature, both in summer and winter, which he subsequently used in the composition of the landscapes in his studio. He considered the atmosphere and fidelity to be more important than a topographically correct representation. In his panoramic landscapes with a view of a city like Haarlem or Dordrecht, he freely combined building volumes with landscape sketches he had made in the vicinity of these cities.
The appeal of Schelfhout's landscapes lies in the perfect application of the then current aesthetic ideal of 'Simplicity, Truth and the Eternally Beautiful'. In his works nature and the 'fair' rural life were elevated to ideal (Simplicity); the landscapes are painted deceptively true to nature (Truth), without being an exact representation of nature, but a composition from the most beautiful parts of reality (the Eternal Beautiful). This resulted in paintings that are pleasant to look at. In his winters not a drowning skater in a hole and chilling figures on the ice, but cheerfully swinging people, pleasant scenes by a sledge and pleasant bustle with a cookie-and-zopie on sunny ice plains. And in his summers no shabby vagrants or tired peasants with skinny draft horses, but chatting, colorfully dressed country folk with well-fed cattle on a summer sandy path. BC Koekkoek wrote in his' Memories and communications of a landscape painter '(1841) about Schelfhout's landscapes:' Would you like to see what becomes of a flat, simple rural scene, if the same bears the stamp of nature, the mark of truth, beautiful and graceful? can be made? Then consider the works of our great Schelfhout. In it you will find the simple nature presented most gracefully, but also with a faithfulness and truth, which only a Schelfhout can do. '
Almost every year, Schelfhout submitted one or more paintings for the Exhibition of Living Masters, one of the most important national exhibitions of its time. The exhibition lists show that between 1811 and 1870 Schelfhout mainly submitted summer landscapes. Snow and ice scenes have become more and more frequent in these lists over the years, but summer landscapes nevertheless remain the lion's share of his contributions to these exhibitions. The structure of these entries could be representative of Schelfhout's entire oeuvre, but this is not certain. Given his status as 'Winter Frost' and the popularity of his ice scenes, it is suspected that in reality Schelfhout painted more winters than summers. The fact that many of his winter landscapes will not appear at public exhibitions will have been determined by the market: many wanted an ice scene by Schelfhout and therefore they were either painted on commission or reserved in advance for private buyers or the trade. Sold directly from his studio, sometimes even to collectors of royal blood, they were therefore no longer available for exhibitions.
The admiration for Schelfhout's summer and winter landscapes was so great in the 1940s that critics gave him laudatory nicknames such as 'Modern painterly frost of the landscape' and 'Claude Lorrain of winter scenes'. The French painter Claude Lorrain (1600-1682) immersed his pastoral landscapes in moody morning light or evening twilight. The idyllic atmosphere that this created was much admired in the 19th century. Schelfhout probably owed the comparison with this 18th-century master to his high skies, the clear light and his ability to guide the viewer's gaze into infinite distances in the winter landscape. At the peak of his career, Royal collectors were also among Andreas Schelfhout's clientele. King Willem III visited his studio more than once and Schelfhout was regularly invited by the court. Monarchs elsewhere in Europe also greatly appreciated his work. For example, paintings were purchased for the collections of King Wilhelm I of Württemberg and Tsar Alexander of Russia.