Jacob van Ruisdael
|Jacob van Ruisdael|
Windmill at Wijk bij Duurstede (c. 1670)
|Born||1628 or 1629
Haarlem, Dutch Republic
|Died||10 March 1682
Amsterdam, Dutch Republic
|Known for||Landscape painting|
|Notable work||The Jewish Cemetery, Windmill at Wijk bij Duurstede, View of Haarlem with Bleaching Fields|
|Movement||Dutch Golden Age|
|Patron(s)||Cornelis de Graeff (1599–1664)|
Jacob Isaackszoon van Ruisdael (Dutch pronunciation: [ˈjaːkɔp vɑn ˈrœysdaːl] ( listen); c. 1629 – 10 March 1682) was the pre-eminent Dutch Golden Age painter of landscapes. He was prolific and versatile, depicting a wide variety of landscape subjects.
Ruisdael has three family members who were also landscape painters, some of whom spelled their name "Ruysdael": his father Isaack van Ruisdael, his well-known uncle Salomon van Ruysdael, and his cousin, confusingly called Jacob van Ruysdael. Attributions among the family members, as well as a wider group of Haarlem landscape painters, are uncertain as not all works are signed and dated.
During his early phase, starting in 1646, Ruisdael predominantly painted Dutch countryside scenes of remarkable quality given his age. In the middle phase, after having travelled to Germany, his landscapes took on a more heroic character. In his final stage, while living and working in Amsterdam, he added city panoramas and seascapes to his regular repertoire, in which the sky often took up two thirds of the canvas. Waterfalls feature often in his oeuvre. His only documented pupil was Meindert Hobbema, one of several artists who painted figures in his landscapes.
His work was in demand in the Dutch Republic during his lifetime, and afterwards in England as well. Today it is spread across private and institutional collections globally, with the National Gallery in London, the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, and the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg each holding more than a dozen of his creations. Ruisdael has shaped landscape painting traditions from the English Romantics to the Barbizon School in France, and the Hudson River School in the US, as well generations of Dutch landscape artists.
Little is known with certainty about Jacob Isaackszoon van Ruisdael. He was born in Haarlem in 1628 or 1629[A] into a family of painters, all landscapists. The number of painters in the family, and multiple spellings of the Ruisdael name, have hampered attempts to document his life and attribute his works. The name Ruisdael is connected to a castle, now lost, in the village of Blaricum where Jacob's grandfather, furniture maker Jacob de Goyer, lived. When De Goyer moved away to Naarden, three of his sons changed their name into Ruysdael or Ruisdael, probably to indicate their origin.[B] Two of De Goyer's sons became painters: Jacob's father Isaack van Ruisdael and his uncle Salomon van Ruysdael. Jacob himself always spelled his name with an "i". His cousin, Salomon's son Jacob Salomonszoon van Ruysdael, also a landscape artist, spelled his name with a "y". Jacob's earliest biographer, Arnold Houbraken, called him Jakob Ruisdaal, and claimed the name resulted from his specialty in waterfalls, namely the "ruis" (rustling noise of water) falling into a "daal" (dale) where it foams out into a pond or wider river. It is not known whether Ruisdael's mother was his father's first wife, whose name is unknown, or second wife, Maycken Cornelis; Isaack and Maycken got married on 12 November 1628.
Ruisdael's teacher is not known. It is often assumed he first studied with his father and uncle, but there is no archival evidence for this, and his early works have been confused with theirs. He was strongly influenced by other contemporary Haarlem landscapists however, most notably Cornelis Vroom, who created atmospheric, detailed landscapes, Nicolaes Berchem, a friend with whom he travelled, Allaert van Everdingen, and Roelant Roghman.
The earliest date that appears on Ruisdael's paintings and etchings is 1646.[C] Two years later he was admitted to membership of the Haarlem Guild of St. Luke. By now landscape paintings were found as often as history paintings in households, whereas at the time of Ruisdael's birth history paintings were present twice as much. This growth in popularity of landscapes continued throughout his career.
Around 1657, he moved to Amsterdam, most likely because its prosperity offered him a bigger audience. Fellow Haarlem painter Allaert van Everdingen had already moved to Amsterdam and created a market for their style. Ruisdael lived and worked in Amsterdam for the rest of his life. In 1668, his name appears as a witness to the marriage of Meindert Hobbema, his only registered pupil, whose works have also been confused with his own.
For a landscape artist, it seemed he travelled relatively little: to Blaricum, Egmond aan Zee, and Rhenen in the 1640s, Bentheim and Steinfurt just across the border with Germany with Nicolaas Berchem in 1650, and possibly with Hobbema again across the German border in 1661, via the Veluwe, Deventer and Ootmarsum. Despite his numerous Norwegian landscapes, there is no record of any trip to Scandinavia.
It is unclear whether or not Ruisdael was also a doctor. In 1718, Houbraken reports that he studied medicine and performed surgery in Amsterdam. Archival records of the 17th century show the name "Jacobus Ruijsdael" on a list of Amsterdam doctors, albeit crossed out, with the added remark that he earned his medical degree on 15 October 1676 in Caen, northern France. Various art historians have speculated that this is a case of mistaken identity. Pieter Scheltema concluded it was Ruisdael's cousin who appeared. Ruisdael expert Seymour Slive argued that the spelling "uij" is unusual for Jacob, that his unusually high production suggests there was little time to study medicine, and that there is no indication in any of his art that he visited northern France. Slive concluded Ruisdael may or may not have been a doctor. In 2013, Jan Paul Hinrichs also decided that the evidence is inconclusive.
Ruisdael was not Jewish. Slive reports that, because of the depiction of a Jewish cemetery and various biblical names in the Ruisdael family, he is often told Ruisdael surely must be Jewish. However, the evidence shows otherwise. Ruisdael requested to be baptized at the Calvinist Reformed Church in Amsterdam, and was buried in the Saint Bavo's Church, Haarlem, also a Protestant church at that time. His uncle Salomon van Ruysdael belonged to the Young Flemish subgroup of the Mennonite congregation, one of several types of Anabaptists in Haarlem, as probably did his father. His cousin Jacob was a registered Mennonite in Amsterdam.
Hendrik Frederik Wijnman disproved the stubborn myth that Ruisdael died as a poor man, supposedly in the old men's almshouse in Haarlem. He proved that the person who died there was in fact Ruisdael's cousin, Jacob Salomonszoon. Although there is no record of him owning land or shares, Ruisdael lived comfortably, even after the economic downturn of the disaster year 1672. [E] His paintings were valued fairly highly. In 1664 a Ruisdael was valued the highest, 60 guilders, in an inventory including works by Willem van de Velde, Meindert Hobbema, and Jan van der Heyden. Ruisdael died in Amsterdam on 10 March 1682. He was buried 14 March 1682 in Saint Bavo's Church, Haarlem.
Characteristic of Ruisdael's early period (c. 1646 to the early 1650s), while he was living in Haarlem, is the choice of simple motifs and the careful and laborious study of the details of nature: dunes, woods, fresh atmospheric effects, and through heavier paint than his predecessors, foliage with a rich quality that gives the sense of sap flowing through its branches and leaves. His consistent accurate rendering of trees was unprecedented: the genera of his trees are the first to be unequivocally recognisable by modern-day botanists. His early sketches introduce motifs that return later in all his work: spaciousness, luminosity and an airy atmosphere achieved through pointillist-like touches of chalk. Most of the thirty black chalk sketches that survived date from this period.
An exemplar of his style is Dune Landscape, one of his earliest works, dated 1646, which breaks with the classic Dutch tradition of depicting broad views of dunes that include houses and trees flanked by distant vistas. Instead, he puts the dune with trees prominently centre stage, with the cloudscape concentrating strong light on the sandy path. This heroic effect is enlarged by the large size of the canvas, "so unexpected in the work of an inexperienced painter" according to Irina Sokolova, curator at the Hermitage Museum. As art historian Hofstede de Groot noted of Wooded Dune dated 1646, "it is hardly credible that it should be the work of a boy of seventeen".
His first panoramic landscape dates from 1647, called View of Naarden with the Church at Muiderberg in the Distance. The theme of overwhelming sky and a distant town, in this case the birthplace of his father, is one he returned to in his later years.
For unknown reasons, Ruisdael almost entirely stops dating his work from 1653. Only five works from the 1660s have a, partially obscured, year next to his signature; none from the 1670s and 1680s. Dating subsequent work has therefore been largely based on detective work and speculation.
All thirteen known Ruisdael etchings come from his early period, with the first one dated 1646. It is unknown who taught him the art of etching, as no etchings exist signed by his father, his uncle, or Cornelis Vroom. His etchings show little influence from Rembrandt, neither in style or technique. Few original impressions exist; five etchings survive in only a single impression. Slive states that the rarity of prints suggests that Ruisdael considered them trial essays that did not warrant large editions. Etching expert Georges Duplessis singled out The Cornfield and The Travellers as unrivalled illustrations of his genius.
Following his trip into Germany, which helped him gain a broader view of nature, his landscapes took on a more heroic character, with forms becoming larger, more massive and weighty. A view of Bentheim Castle, dated 1653, is just one of a dozen of his depictions of this castle in Germany, almost all of which show the castle on a hilltop. Significant are the numerous changes Ruisdael makes to the castle's setting, actually on an unimposing low hill, culminating in the 1653 version showing Bentheim Castle on a wooded mountain. These variations are considered evidence of his compositional skills.[F] The ruins of Egmont Castle near Alkmaar were another favourite subject and feature in The Jewish Cemetery, of which he painted two versions. In the painting Ruisdael pits the natural world against the built environment, which has been overrun by the trees and shrubs surrounding the cemetery.
Ruisdael's first Scandinavian views, with big firs, rugged mountains, large boulders and rushing torrents, date from this period. Though convincingly realistic, these paintings are based on art, not nature. There is no record of any trip to Scandinavia, but fellow Haarlem painter van Everdingen had travelled there in 1644 and had popularised the subgenre. Ruisdael soon outstripped van Everdingen's finest efforts, in the end producing more than 150 works featuring waterfalls, of which Waterfall in a Mountainous Landscape with a Ruined Castle, c. 1665–1670, is seen as his grandest by Slive.
Ruisdael started painting coastal scenes and sea-pieces, influenced by Simon de Vlieger and Jan Porcellis. Among the most dramatic is Rough Sea at a Jetty, with a restricted palette of only black, white, blue and a few brown earth colours. But forest scenes remain a subject of choice, such as for instance the Hermitage's most famous Ruisdael A Wooded Marsh, dated c. 1665, which depicts a primeval scene with broken birches and oaks, and branches reaching for the sky amidst an overgrown pond.
During his last period mountain scenes appear, such as Mountainous and Wooded Landscape with a River, dateable to the late 1670s, portraying a rugged range as lofty as the Alps, with the highest peak in the clouds. By now, Ruisdael's subjects are unusually varied, from his favourite woodland scenes, to waterfalls, windmills, water mills, dunes, beach scenes and seascapes, to panoramas of distant cities. Art historian Wolfgang Stechow identified 13 themes within the landscape genre and Ruisdael's work covers all but two of them, excelling at most. Only the Italianate and foreign landscapes (apart from Scandinavian ones) are absent from his oeuvre.[G]
Unsurprisingly, a typical Dutch landscape with a windmill is one of Ruisdael's most famous works. Windmill at Wijk bij Duurstede, dated 1670, shows Wijk bij Duurstede, a riverside town about 20 kilometers from Utrecht, with a dominant cylindrical windmill, harmonised by the lines of river bank and sails, with the contrasts between light and shadow working together with the intensified concentration of mass and space. Its enduring popularity is evidenced by card sales in the Rijksmuseum, with the Windmill ranking third after Rembrandt's Night Watch and Vermeer's View of Delft. Windmills featured throughout his entire career.
Various panoramic views of the Haarlem skyline and its bleaching grounds appear at this stage, a specific genre called Haerlempjes, with the clouds controlling the various gradations of alternating bands of light and shadow towards the horizon, often dominated by the Saint Bavo's Church, in which Ruisdael would one day be buried.
While Amsterdam does feature in his work, it does so relatively rarely for someone who lived there for over 25 years. It does feature in his only architectural subject known, an interior of the New Church, as well as in views of the Dam, and his Panoramic View of the Amstel Looking towards Amsterdam.
Figures are sparingly introduced into his compositions, and are by this period rarely of his own hand[H] but executed by various artists, including his pupil Meindert Hobbema, Nicolaes Berchem, Adriaen van de Velde, Philips Wouwerman, Jan Vonck, Thomas de Keyser, Gerard van Battum and Jan Lingelbach.
In his 2001 catalogue raisonné Slive attributes 694 paintings to Ruisdael and lists another 163 paintings with dubious or, he believes, incorrect attribution.[I] There are three main reasons why there is uncertainty over whose hand has painted various Ruisdael-style landscapes. Firstly, four members of the Ruysdael family were landscapists with similar signatures, which have sometimes later fraudulently been altered into Jacob's. This is further complicated by the fact that Ruisdael unfortunately used variations of his signature, which typically reads "JvRuisdael" or "JVR", sometimes using a small italic 's' and sometimes a Gothic long 's', such as on Landscape with Waterfall. Secondly, many 17th century landscape paintings are unsigned and could be from pupils or copyists. Thirdly, fraudsters have imitated Ruisdaels for financial gain, with the earliest case reported by Houbraken in 1718: a certain Jan Griffier the Elder could imitate Ruisdael's style so well that he often sold them for real Ruisdaels, especially with figurines added in the style of Philip Wouwerman. There is no large-scale systematic approach to ascertain Ruisdael's attributions, unlike the forensic science put into finding the correct attributions of Rembrandt's paintings, through the Rembrandt Research Project.
Ruisdael has shaped landscape painting traditions from the English Romantics to the Barbizon School in France, and the Hudson River School in the US, as well generations of Dutch landscape artists. Among the English artists influenced by Ruisdael are Thomas Gainsborough, J. M. W. Turner, and John Constable. Gainsborough drew, in black chalk and grey wash, a replica of a Ruisdael in the 1740s—now both in the Louvre in Paris. Turner made many copies of Ruisdaels and even painted fantasy views of a nonexistent port he called Port Ruysdael. Constable also copied various drawings, etchings and paintings of Ruisdael, and was a great admirer from a young age. "It haunts my mind and clings to my heart", he wrote after seeing a Ruisdael. But he thought the Jewish Cemetery was a failure, because it attempts to tell that which is outside the reach of art.
In the 19th century Vincent van Gogh acknowledged Ruisdael as a major influence, calling him sublime, but at the same time saying it would be a mistake to try and copy him. He had two Ruisdael prints, The Bush and The Bleeching Fields, up on his wall, and thought the Ruisdaels in the Louvre were "magnificent, especially The Bush, The Breakwater and The Ray of Light". His experience of the French countryside was informed by his memory of Ruisdael's art. Van Gogh's contemporary Claude Monet is also said to owe Ruisdael very much. Even Piet Mondriaan's minimalism has been traced back to Ruisdael's panoramas.
Among art historians and critics, Ruisdael's reputation has had its ups and down over the centuries. The first account, in 1718, is from Houbraken, who waxed lyrical over the technical mastery which allowed him to realistically depict water in waterfalls and the sea. In 1781, Sir Joshua Reynolds, founder of the Royal Academy, admired the freshness and force of his landscapes. Around the turn of the 18th century other English critics were less impressed. In 1801, Henry Fuseli, professor at the Royal Academy, expressed his contempt for the entire Dutch School of Landscape, dismissing it as no more than a "transcript of the spot", a mere "enumeration of hill and dale, clumps of trees". Of note is that one of Fuseli's students was Constable, whose admiration for Ruisdael remained unchanged. Around the same time in Germany, the writer, statesman and scientist Johann Wolfgang von Goethe lauded Ruisdael as a thinking artist, even a poet, saying "he demonstrates remarkable skill in locating the exact point at which the creative faculty comes into contact with a lucid mind". John Ruskin however, in 1860, raged against Ruisdael and other Dutch Golden Age landscapists, calling their landscapes places where "we lose not only all faith in religion but all remembrance of it". In 1915, Dutch art historian Abraham Bredius called his compatriot not so much a painter as a poet.
More recent art historians have also rated Ruisdael highly. Kenneth Clark described him as "the greatest master of the natural vision before Constable". Waldemar Januszczak finds him a marvellous storyteller. Januszczak does not rate him the greatest landscape artist of all time, but is especially impressed by his works as a teenager: "a prodigy whom we should rank at number 8 or 9 on the Mozart scale". Slive states Ruisdael is acknowledged "by general consent, as the pre-eminent landscapist of the Golden Age of Dutch art".
Ruisdael is now seen as the leading artist of the "classical" phase in Dutch landscape art, which builds upon the realism of the previous "tonal" phase. The tonal phase suggested atmosphere through the use of tonality. The classical phase strived for a more grandiose effect. The pictures are built up in vigorous contrasts of solid form against the sky, of light against shade, often singling out a tree, animal, or windmill.
Although many of Ruisdael's works were on show in the Art Treasures Exhibition, Manchester 1857, and various other grand exhibitions across the world subsequently, it was not until 1981 that an exhibition was solely dedicated to Ruisdael. Over fifty paintings and thirtyfive drawings and etchings were exhibited, first at the Mauritshuis in The Hague, then, in 1982, at the Fogg Museum in Cambridge, Massachusetts. In 2006, the Royal Academy in London hosted a Ruisdael Master of Landscape exhibition, displaying works from over fifty collections.
There are no 17th century documents to indicate, either at first or second hand, what Ruisdael intended to convey through his art. While The Jewish Cemetery is universally accepted as an allegory for the fragility of life, how other works should be interpreted is much disputed. At one end of the spectrum is Royal Academy professor Henry Fuseli, saying they have no meaning at all, and are simply a depiction of nature. At the other end is Franz Theodor Kugler who sees meaning in almost everything: "They all display the silent power of Nature, who opposes with her mighty hand the petty activity of man, and with a solemn warning as it were, repels his encroachments".
In the middle of the spectrum are scholars such as E. John Walford who sees the works as "not so much bearers of narrative or emblematic meanings but rather as images reflecting the fact that the visible world was essentially perceived as manifesting inherent spiritual significance". Walford advocates abandoning the notion of 'disguised symbolism'. All of Ruisdael's work can be interpreted according to the religious world view of his time: nature serves as the 'first book' of God, both because of its inherent divine qualities and because of God's obvious concern for man and the world. The interpretation is spiritual, not moral.
Andrew Graham-Dixon says all Dutch Golden Age landscapists could not help but search everywhere for meaning. He says of the windmill in The Windmill at Wijk bij Duurstede that it symbolises "the sheer hard work needed to keep Holland above water and to safeguard the future of the nation's children". The symmetries in the landscapes are "reminders to fellow citizens always to remain on the straight and narrow". Seymour Slive is more reluctant to read too much into the work, but does put The Windmill in its contemporary religious context of man's dependence on the "spirit of the Lord for life". With regards to interpreting Ruisdael's Scandinavian paintings, he says "My own view is that it strains credulity to the breaking point to propose that he himself conceived of all his depictions of waterfalls, torrents and rushing streams and dead trees as visual sermons on the themes of transcience and vanitas".
Ruisdaels are scattered across collections globally, private and institutional. The most notable collections are at the National Gallery in London, which holds twenty of his paintings; the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, which holds sixteen paintings; and the Hermitage Museum in Saint Petersburg, which holds nine. In the US, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York has five paintings in its collection, the J. Paul Getty Museum in California three.
Of his surviving drawings, a 140 in total, the Rijksmuseum, the Teylers Museum in Haarlem, Dresden’s Kupferstich-Kabinett, and the Hermitage each hold significant collections.
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 17th-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". Ruisdael's depiction of nature and emergent Dutch technology are wrapped up in this. Christopher Joby puts Ruisdael in the religious context of Calvinism in the Dutch Republic. "Landscape painting does conform to Calvin's requirement that only what is visible may be depicted in art, and stated that landscape paintings such as those of Ruisdael have an epistemological value which provides further support for their use within Reformed Churches".
Yuri Kuznetsov places Ruisdael's art in the context of the war of independence against Spain. Dutch landscape painters "were called upon to make a portrait of their homeland, twice rewon by the Dutch people – first from the sea and later from foreign invaders". Jonathan Israel, in his study of the Dutch Republic, calls the period between 1647 and 1672 the third phase of Dutch Golden Age art, in which wealthy merchants wanted large, opulent and refined paintings, and civic leaders filled their town halls with grand displays containing republican messages.
In addition, ordinary middle class Dutch people began buying art for the first time, creating a high demand for paintings of all kinds. This demand was met by enormous painter guilds.[J] Master painters set up studios to produce large numbers of paintings quickly.[K] Under the master's direction, studio members would specialise in parts of a painting, such as figures in landscapes or costumes in portraits and history paintings.[L] Masters would sometimes add a few touches to authenticate a work mostly done by his pupils, to maximise both for speed and price. Numerous art dealers organised commissions on behalf of patrons, as well as buying uncommissioned stock to sell on. Landscape artists did not depend on commissions in the way most painters had to do, and could therefore paint for stock. However, in Ruisdael’s case, it is not known whether he kept stock to sell directly to customers, or sold his work through dealers, or both. Art historians only know of one commission,[M] a work for the wealthy Amsterdam burgomaster Cornelis de Graeff, jointly painted with Thomas de Keyser. [N]
- This is inferred from a document dated 9 June 1661 in which Ruisdael states to be 32 years old.
- While in modern Dutch the "uy" spelling is only preserved in names and the "ui" is dominant, before modern spelling regulations the "uy" was spelled interchangeably with "uij", with "ij" in combination just being another way to represent "y", and "ui" being shorthand for "uij". The long list of common spellings of the Ruisdael name over the centuries includes "uy", "uij", and "ui".
- It was unusual that signed and dated works of an artist were created before matriculation in a guild.
- The Dutch coffee and tea company De Zuid-Hollandsche Koffie- en Theehandel published picture books in the 1920s with portraits of famous figures from Dutch history and the 1926 edition showed a portrait of "Jacob Isaaksz. Ruisdael" (sic). It is not known where the coffee and tea company got the image from. Two 19th century sculptures, one on the outside wall of the Hamburger Kunsthalle built in 1863, and one inside the Louvre made by Louis-Denis Caillouette in 1822, are also not traceable back to a source.
- Tax records show Ruisdael paid 10 guilders for the 0.5% wealth tax in 1674, indicating his net worth was 2,000 guilders.
- Other evidence of his compositional skills includes the botanically accurate representation of the shrub Viburnum lantana L. on the 1653 View of Bentheim Castle painting, for which there is no evidence of ever have been present in this area.
- Slive attributes the four untraceable references to biblical Ruisdaels to his uncle or cousin.
- It is assumed that in his early years Ruisdael painted the staffage himself. Landscape with Hut of 1646 is one such example. The figures in most of his panoramic views are also of his own hand. Art historian Robert Watson writes that the odd tendency to hire each other to paint small figures in landscapes suggests a taboo guarding the barrier between the human and the natural.
- Hofstede de Groot felt the problem of attribution first hand in 1911, when number 60 in his catalogue raisonné of Ruisdael was judged not to be authentic, causing a last minute footnote before going to press.
- Based on records of membership of the Guild of Saint Luke, it is estimated there was one painter for every 2,000 to 3,000 inhabitants, compared to every 10,000 in Renaissance Italy. A total of five million paintings were produced in the Dutch Republic in the 17th century. Slive says there were hundreds of landscapists during Ruisdael's time.
- Studios already existed before Ruisdael was born. Painters from the tonal phase had in addition developed efficient techniques such as wet-into-wet paint, but this was not used by the classical phase painters, who strived for a high level of realism.
- It is not certain if Ruisdael had more pupils other than Hobbema in his studio, but at least four other artists have been identified as having provided staffage for his landscapes.
- Art historian Scheyer suggests that it possible that one of the Jewish Cemetery versions was commissioned by the family of Eliahu Montalto, whose tomb is on the painting. Slive does not hold this for impossible.
- This work, The Arrival of Cornelis de Graeff and Members of His Family at Soestdijk (c. 1660), is unusual in Ruisdael's oeuvre for another reason. It is also the only one in which his landscape is the background to the work of another artist.
- Kuznetsov 1983, p. 3.
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- Media related to Jacob Isaacksz. van Ruisdael at Wikimedia Commons