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Cloud Atlas: paintings featuring clouds


Staying indoors can be a challenge. We have more time on our hands, but what to do with it? Maybe look outside and learn something new? This KMSKA Cloud Atlas will help you do just that. Keep it close by for when the weather changes.

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Schilderij De Wolk van Adrien-Louis Demont

Before we begin, you should know that the international classification system for clouds is based on layers. There are low-hanging ones, high ones and a layer in between. But clouds don’t always float around neatly in a single layer: they can spread across two or more. The trick then is to pick the layer in which most clouds – or else the biggest ones – are located.


Each formation has several sub-types as well, depending on how tightly packed they are, whether they’re stacked up like a castle or are more like separate flakes. But that’s a bit advanced for our purposes here: we just want to identify the clouds as best we can. If we’ve got it wrong, be sure to let us know!

Low-hanhing clouds


This is the best-known type of cloud, with the appearance of cotton wool. The painter Theodoor Verstraete knew that the top is often bright white, while the bottom part is darker. Warm air rises, sculpting the droplets of water into sharply defined shapes.

Schilderij Stapelwolken van Theodoor Verstraete
After the rain, September Theodoor Verstraete


Is the sky a mass of grey clouds with rain that won’t let up? Sounds like nimbostratus... ‘Stratus’ refers to an unbroken wall of cloud close to the ground, while ‘nimbus’ just means ‘raincloud’. One of the foals in this painting by Alfred Verwee tries vainly to shelter from the downpour

Schilderij Veulens in de wei van Alfred Verwee
Foals in the Paddock Alfred Verwee


Alexander Marcette painted this stratus formation as it gradually dissolves. The clouds are thin enough for the late afternoon sun to peep through, giving the shapeless stratus a yellow tinge. Not much chance of rain here.

Schilderij regen en zon van Alexander Marcette
Rainfall and Sunshine Alexander Marcette

In between


Clouds is the straightforward title that Gustave De Smet gave this magnificent example of stratocumulus. These huge balls of vapour can appear separately or in great masses and are the most common type in Western Europe. Perhaps they’ll bring the rain with them.

Schilderij Wolkenspel Gustave De Smet
Clouds Gustave De Smet


This altocumulus, bathed in the warm light of the setting sun, dominates the dune landscape. It forms in the middle part of the sky and can be identified from the immense size of individual clouds. Adrien-Louis Demont offers us the same overwhelming experience as the tiny people in the painting. Can you spot the bonfire too?

Schilderij De Wolk van Adrien-Louis Demont
The Cloud Adrien-Louis Demont

High clouds

Cirrus and stratocumulus

By now, you should be able to identify this White Cloud as a stratocumulus. Above its thick mass, James Ensor has brushed in some stringy clouds. Because they are so high up, wispy, hair-like cirrus clouds consist entirely of ice crystals and race across the sky at speeds of up to 100 km per hour.

De witte wolk
The White Cloud James Ensor


A scary-looking tower of cloud rolls furiously across the Ostend sky. It doesn’t bode well: this formation warns of a coming storm. Following the wind and rain, Ensor has painted the transition here from rolling cloud to cumulonimbus, the true thundercloud.

Schilderij Daken in Oostende van James Ensor
The Rooftops of Ostend James Ensor

Voor de liefhebbers


Fortunately, rain is often followed by a rainbow. The stratus formation lingers in this sky by Guillaume Vogels, but better weather is on its way.


Schilderij Regenboog van Guillaume Vogels
Rainbow Guillaume Vogels

Cumulus fantasia

We’ll end with a new type of cloud: cumulus fantasia. If you look long enough, there’s always an imaginary parade going on with cumulus clouds. Do they take on the shapes you want to see? Or do they decide themselves what they want to look like? Balthasar Ommeganck saw a caterpillar creeping above the mountain here. What about you? The rural couple on the left look like they’re playing the same game.

Schilderij Herders met schapen in een bergachtig landschap van Baltasar Ommeganck
Landscape with Goats and Sheep Balthasar Ommeganck