Salomon van Ruysdael
Naarden 1600/03 – 1670 Haarlem
River Landscape with Fishermen and Cattle, The Grote Kerk of Alkmaar Beyond
Oil on panel 50.5 x 69.2 cm
Signed and dated lower left: “SVRuysdael 1664 [SVR in ligature]”
Possibly anonymous sale, Amsterdam, 24 July 1792, lot 83, sold to Yver Benjamin Knower, New York
By whom 1922 gifted to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York (inv. R 941-6)
With Duveen Brothers, Inc., New York, by 1954
Emile Wolf (1899-1996), New York
Thence by descent to the previous owners
New York, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1922
Boston, Harvard University, Fogg Museum of Art, 1928
London; Ontario, University of Western Ontario, McIntosh Memorial Gallery, Loan Exhibition. Seventeenth Century Dutch Masters, (cat. by B.M. Green) 1954
Providence, Museum of Art, Rhode Island School of Design; Tampa, The Tampa Museum;
Norfolk, The Chrysler Museum, The Discovery of the Everyday. Seventeenth Century Dutch Paintings from the Wolf Collection, 1982-83, nr. 43 (‘Landscape with Cattle and a Church’)
Alkmaar, Stedelijk Museum, Ruysdael en Saenredam. Meesterwerken van de Grote Kerk, (cat.
by Chr. Klinkert) 2018
‘Dutch Masters Shown at Fogg’, Art News, 12 May 1928, p. 6
W. Stechow, Salomon van Ruysdael, Berlin 1938, p. 132, nr. 535
W. Stechow, Salomon van Ruysdael, Berlin 1975, p. 152, nr. 535
This summery river scene shows Salomon van Ruysdael at his best. Estuaries and rivers were his favourite theme. Here the water expanse takes up the entire foreground, giving the beholder the sensation of standing in a boat. As often the case, Ruysdael put a clump of dense trees at one side of the composition, allowing the other side to open up to a wide panoramic view. Two cows stand nearby in the shallow water, one of them keeping a watchful eye on us. Further down the river a vessel cuts through the water as it is blown forth by strong wind. Near the horizon the tiny silhouettes of more shipping and two ferries can be made out.
Majestically rising up above the rooftops is Alkmaar’s Grote Kerk. It is not often that Ruysdael depicted topographical sites.1 With Alkmaar, however, the artist developed a close connection. When in 1644 Ruysdael’s brother the merchant Pieter de Gooyer died, the artist received custody over his three daughters.2 The city was a short trip to the north of Haarlem, where Ruysdael lived, and from then on he will have visited Alkmaar more frequently. It was exactly in this later period of his career that the artist would paint a series of at least fourteen views of Alkmaar with dates ranging from 1644 to 1667. Many of them employ roughly the same compositional layout as our painting, with a diagonally receding river as the main motif. Our work is particularly close to a version dated 1660.3 Many of Ruysdael’s Alkmaar views are in public collections.4
The Stedelijk Museum in Alkmaar very recently acquired an early example of 1644.5 Just as in that painting, Ruysdael here shows the town as seen from the north. This doesn’t mean that Ruysdael’s representation is entirely realistic. The Stedelijk Museum’s version is the only in the series that is to a high degree topographically accurate. For instance, in our painting the river itself is artistic licence.6 Detailed accuracy was not Ruysdael’s prime concern. Yet some elements were clearly inspired by the real situation, such as the standard mill ‘De Munnik’ (The Monk), which was located on the northern corner of the town’s rampart.7 Left from the mill we see a roof with a chimney or small tower rising up. This could be the still existing building of the Oude Doelen. The isolated building on the extreme right is the Geesterpoort of Bergerpoort. The spire right from the Grote Kerk probably is the chapel of ‘The Oude Hof’.8 The latter two buildings can be seen in many of Ruysdael’s other views as well.
Ruysdael painted this vedute with deft strokes of the brush that bespeak the confidence of decades of experience. A similar boldness can be seen in the solidly structured composition, throwing in sharp relief the shadowed volumes of the treetops and skyline against the backdrop of the bright sky. The massive cloud formations, painted with broad strokes, are beautifully counterbalanced with the trees on the bank on the left stretching up and leaning out over the water. With its hyper-realistic rendition of the cloudy sky, this painting is nothing less than an ode to the Dutch landscape.
Ruysdael is also a master in creating a powerful illusion of depth, leading the beholder’s eye across the entire scenery. When zooming in, a striking wealth of detail becomes apparent. Wonderfully captured is the river’s quiet, rippling water executed largely wet in wet with oily paint. The trees’ branches effectively evoke the sound of wind playing with the leaves. The foliage is dabbed onto the panel with a heavily loaded brush creating a richly textured surface that from a distance suggests a gentle vibration of the foliage caused by a breeze. The tree trunks cast a shadow over the water, veiling the two boats with fisher-folk that have thrown out their nets. All this is observed with an incredibly sharp eye for detail.
The artist has employed in this painting the full array of his technical potential. What sets this river view apart from his earlier treatments of the theme is the sheer monumentality of form. And in few other works did Ruysdael achieve a similar degree of verisimilitude in the portrayal of atmosphere and with such economy of means. In sum, this sweeping river view is without a doubt one of Ruysdael’s masterpieces.
Our painting boasts a respectable provenance as having been part of the Metropolitan Museum’s collection and having then passed through the hands of Duveen brothers, the period’s leading art dealership. It then came in possession of the well-known collector Emile Wolf, whose collection spanned centuries and a variety of subjects.
Salomon van Ruysdael was originally called Salomon de Gooyer (meaning of Gooieland) but he and his brother Isaack, also an artist, adopted the name ‘Ruysdael’ from Castle Ruisdael, near their father’s home town, which was possibly once in the family’s possession. Jacob van Ruisdael, the other famous landscape painter, was Salomon’s nephew. Salomon entered the Guild of Saint Luke in Haarlem in 1623. His earliest known dated painting is of 1626. Two years later he was praised as a landscape painter by the chronicler Samuel van Ampzing in his description of Haarlem. It is not known with whom Ruysdael trained but his early works show the influence of Esaias van de Velde, who worked in Haarlem from 1609 to 1618. Ruysdael is known as a leading landscape specialist, although later in life he painted some still lifes as well. In addition to painting, Ruysdael had a career as a merchant, dealing in blue dye for the Haarlem bleacheries. Nevertheless, his son Jacob became a painter.
1 For this see: J.W. Niemeijer, ‘Het topografisch element in enkele riviergezichten van Salomon van Ruysdael nader beschouwd’, Oud Holland 74 (1959), pp. 51-56.
2 See for this and a thorough account of the artist’s life: N. Köhler et al., Painting in Haarlem 1500- 1800. The collection of the Frans Hals Museum, Haarlem 2006, pp. 289, 290.
3 See Stechow 1975 (see literature), nr. 531, pp. 151, 152.
4 There is an undated work in the Metropolitan Museum in New York (inv. 71.135). See for an excellent discussion of the work: W. Liedtke, Dutch Paintings in The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2 vols., New York 2007, vol. 2, nr. 187, pp. 812–14, ill. Another early version, dated 1647, is in The National Gallery of Ireland (inv. NGI.27). A 1656 dated work is in Edinburgh, The National Gallery of Scotland
(inv. 2799). Two later and related views are in Boedapest, Szépmüvészeti Múzeum (dated 1664; inv.nr. 299) and in Oxford, Asmolean Museum (inv. WA1988.292; dated 1669, which is surely false or wrongly read, because Ruysdael had died in 1667) respectively. A further treatment is in Madrid, Museo Thyssen (inv. 793 (1930.103)).
5 See on the acquisition: https://www.verenigingrembrandt.nl/1059/de-kunst/waarom-gesteund/31- januari-2017:-stedelijk-museum-alkmaar-presenteert-een-stadsgezicht-van-salomon-van-ruysdael/
6 There was no river on that spot. Alkmaar is still encircled by a canal, a so-called Singel but this is not what Ruysdael shows. Nor does he suggest the presence of city walls.
7 With thanks to Christi Klinkert, curator of the Alkmaar Stedelijk Museum, for kindly informing us that this was the mill’s name. This mill also features in other views on Alkmaar by Ruysdael and can for instance be seen on various maps of Alkmaar such as one by Joan Bleau. The area is still called Molenbuurt.
8 With many kind thanks to Dr Klinkert for her assistance in identifying these buildings.