Jacob van Ruisdael

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Jacob Isaacksz. van Ruisdael
Jacob van Ruisdael - Wooded hillside with a view of Bentheim Castle - Google Art Project.jpg
Wooded hillside with a view of Bentheim Castle (1653)
Born 1628 or 1629
Died c. 10 March 1682(1682-03-10)
Nationality Dutch
Known for Landscape painting
Patron(s) Cornelis de Graeff (1599-1664)

Jacob van Ruisdael (or Ruysdael) (c.1629 – 10 March 1682) was a prolific Dutch Golden Age landscape painter, and is considered the most famous of four Haarlem family members who created landscape paintings, though traditionally their works have been difficult to tell apart.[1]


Jacob Isaacksz. van Ruisdael - Road through an Oak Forest
Jacob Isaacksz. van Ruisdael - Landschap met waterval

A native of Haarlem, Jacob Isaacksz van Ruisdael first studied with his father Isaack and uncle Salomon van Ruysdael, landscape painters and sons of a frame dealer called Jacob van Gooyer from Gooi.[2] He was strongly influenced by other contemporary Haarlem landscapists however, most notably Berghem, with whom he traveled to Germany in 1650, Allart van Everdingen, who created Nordic landscapes with waterfalls, and Roelant Roghman, who created popular dramatic castle themes on hillsides.[2] The earliest date that appears on his paintings and etchings is 1646.[2][3] Two years later he was admitted as a member of the Haarlem Guild of St. Luke; in 1659 he obtained the citizenship of the city of Amsterdam. In 1668 his name appears there as a witness to the marriage of Meindert Hobbema, his only registered pupil.[2]

During his lifetime, Ruisdael's works were under-appreciated, and he seems to have been poor. In 1676 he was registered as doctor in Amsterdam, having received a medical degree in Caen, Northern France, on 15 October 1676.[2][4] According to Houbraken his father was wealthy enough to send him to school to learn Latin and medicine and was known for performing manual operations in Amsterdam.[5]

Although often connected to Dutch Judaism, Ruisdael was not Jewish. His two paintings of the Jewish Cemetery are interpreted to be allegorical meditations on the transience of all life.[6]

In 1681 the Mennonite congregation with which his cousin Jacob was connected petitioned the council of Haarlem for his admission into the local old men's almshouse (today the location of the Frans Hals Museum), and there the artist died in March 1682.[citation needed][7] Others have concluded that Ruisdael died in Amsterdam around March 10.[8] Ruisdael was buried 14 March 1682 in the Saint Bavo's Church, Haarlem.[2]


View of Alkmaar

Ruisdael's favorite subjects are simple woodland scenes, similar to those of Everdingen and Hobbema. He is especially noted as a painter of trees, and his rendering of foliage, particularly of oak leaf age, is characterized by the greatest spirit and precision. His views of distant cities, such as that of Haarlem in the possession of the marquess of Bute, and that of Katwijk in the Glasgow Corporation Galleries, clearly indicate the influence of Rembrandt.

He frequently painted coast-scenes and sea-pieces, but it is in his rendering of lonely forest glades that we find him at his best. His early marines were influenced by Cornelis Vroom, and later ones by Simon de Vlieger and Jan Porcellis.[2] The subjects of certain of his mountain scenes seem to be taken from Norway, and have led to the supposition that he had traveled in that country. There is, however, no record of such a journey, and the works in question are probably merely adaptations from the landscapes of Van Everdingen, whose manner he copied at one period. Only a single architectural subject from his brush is known—an admirable interior of the New Church, in Amsterdam. The prevailing hue of his landscapes is a full rich green, which, however, has darkened with time, while a clear grey tone is characteristic of his seapieces. The art of Ruisdael, while it shows little of the scientific knowledge of later landscapists, is sensitive and poetic in sentiment, and direct and skillful in technique. Figures are sparingly introduced into his compositions, and such as occur are from the pencils of Nicolaes Berchem, Adriaen van de Velde, Philip Wouwerman, Jan Vonck, Thomas de Keyser and Jan Lingelbach.[2]

A Marsh in a Forest at Dusk c. 1660

Unlike the other great Dutch landscape painters, Ruisdael did not aim at a pictorial record of particular scenes, but he carefully thought out and arranged his compositions, introducing into them an infinite variety of subtle contrasts in the formation of the clouds, the plants and tree forms, and the play of light. He particularly excelled in the painting of cloudscapes which are spanned dome-like over the landscape, and determine the light and shade of the objects.

Goethe lauded him as a poet among painters, and his work shows some of the sensibilities the Romantics would later celebrate. Many of his paintings are said to express underlying themes in morality.[9]

Another characteristic of Ruisdael's landscapes is a polychronic lament for a stable past coupled with an unease for a profoundly unstable future. For example, in paintings like the Jewish Cemetery, Ruisdael pits a rogue natural world against the built environment, which has been overrun by the trees and shrubs surrounding the cemetery. The broken beech dominating the foreground recalls the elegiac tenor of the Virgilian pastoral; it is a trope that conjures lament for past mistakes made that have produced a present-day derelict landscape. Landscape in Ruisdael becomes a way to explore a search for an unambiguous epistemology and an uncorrupted nature.[10]

Progression of style[edit]

A Cornfield with the Zuiderzee in the background

Characteristic of his early period, from about 1646 to 1655, is the choice of very simple motifs and the careful and laborious study of the details of nature. The time between his departure from Haarlem and his settling in Amsterdam may have been spent in travelling and helped him to gain a broader view of nature and to widen the horizon of his art.

A magnificent view of the Castle of Bentheim (which is located in Bad Bentheim in Lower-Saxony), dated 1654, suggests that his wanderings extended to Germany. He later travelled again to Germany with Hobbema in 1661 via Veluwe, Deventer and Ootmarsum.[2]

Jacob van Ruisdael - River Landscape with a Castle on a High Cliff, 1670/1679

In his last period, from about 1675 onwards, he shows a tendency towards overcrowded compositions, and affects a darker tonality, which may partly be due to the use of thin paint on a dark ground. Towards the end, in his leaning towards the romantic mood, he preferred to draw his inspiration from other masters, instead of going to nature direct, his favorite subjects being rushing torrents and waterfalls, and ruined castles on mountain crests, which are frequently borrowed from the Swiss views by his contemporary, Roelant Roghman.

Ruisdael etched a few plates, thirteen according to the latest catalogue raisonné by Slive, which he evidently regarded as experimental and somewhat private, to judge by their extreme rarity - about half survive in only a single impression (copy). By far the best collection is at the Rijksmuseum print room in Amsterdam. Many have very crowded compositions of foliage. The Cornfield and the Travellers are characterized by Duplessis as prints of a high order which may be regarded as the most significant expressions of landscape art in the Low Countries.


Ruisdael and his artworks should not be considered apart from the context of the incredible wealth and significant changes to the land that occurred during the Dutch Golden Age. In his landmark study on seventeenth century Dutch art and culture, Simon Schama remarks that "it can never be overemphasized that the period between 1550 and 1650, when the political identity of an independent Netherlands nation was being established, was also a time of dramatic physical alteration of its landscape."[11] Ruisdael's depiction of nature and emergent Dutch technology are wrapped up in this national anxiety.



  1. ^ The problems with attribution stem from early assumptions that there were only two, not four, painters signing with the "ruis-daal" or "watery dale" name
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i Jacob van Ruisdael in the RKD
  3. ^ It was unusual that signed & dated works for an artist were created before matriculation in a guild
  4. ^ Seymour Slive questions this in his "Jacob van Ruisdael: Windmills and Water Mills", 2011, J. Paul Getty Trust; (partially) available online in Google books
  5. ^ (Dutch)Jakob Ruisdaal biography in De groote schouburgh der Nederlantsche konstschilders en schilderessen (1718) by Arnold Houbraken, courtesy of the Digital library for Dutch literature
  6. ^ http://forward.com/articles/2116/jacob-van-ruisdael-is-not-jewish/
  7. ^ Jacob's cousin Jacob Salomonsz. had become a Mennonite in 1666 while in Amsterdam, but had returned to Haarlem, where he died in 1681. Possibly the cousins had been living together in their old age and reduced circumstances after the death of Jacob Salomonsz prompted the petition.
  8. ^ S. Slive, 'Additions to Jacob van Ruysdael', Burlington Magazine 133 (1991), p. 598-606
  9. ^ Birmingham Museum of Art (2010). Birmingham Museum of Art : guide to the collection. [Birmingham, Ala]: Birmingham Museum of Art. p. 172. ISBN 978-1-904832-77-5. 
  10. ^ Watson, Robert. Back to Nature: The Green and the Real in the Late Renaissance, p. 171.
  11. ^ Schama, Simon, The Embarrassment of Riches: An Interpretation of Dutch Culture in the Golden Age. New York: Vintage, 1987. p. 34.


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