Jan van Goyen was a trendsetter who established a new aesthetic that dominated this period – a sober, sepia-toned palette bound by an underlying ochre ground. River Landscape with a Windmill and Chapel offers several insights into key characteristics of technique and mannerisms that shape our appreciation for the so-called ‘Golden Age’: a low vantage point, so that the eye of the viewer is at the height of the figures and setting, a generous expanse of a sky and clouds, and a fantastic sense of distancing and perspective. He would achieve great fame during his lifetime and after, his paintings synonymous with collectability and status. Indeed, mid-and-late seventeenth century inventories of Dutch Republic households reveal that Van Goyen was represented in their collections more often than any other artist of the time.
WORKS BY JAN VAN GOYEN AND SALOMON VAN RUYSDAEL IN MUSEUM COLLECTIONS
(from left:) Jan van Goyen, “Seascape with Windmill”, 1644 / Jan van Goyen, “River Scene with Towboat”, 1653
(from left): Salomon van Ruysdael, “View of the Dunes near Zandvoort”, oil on canvas / Salomon van Ruysdael, “River View of Nijmegen with the Vakhof”, oil on panel
By 1640, Salomon van Ruysdael distanced himself from the tonal aesthetic that had largely dominated landscape pictures of the previous decade. Instead, he adopted a more varied and brighter palette that can be seen as part of a wider movement in landscape painting. Here, the impulse to paint the more mundane features of the Dutch environment in a relatively uncomplicated manner was supplanted by a desire to imbue the landscape with a new sense of grandeur and refinement. A Dune with Figures Resting is a beautifully orchestrated demonstration of that principal carried on the strength of its brilliant staging of light and shadow, creating drama and energy. It is the beau idéal that collectors of seventeenth century Dutch landscapes value most, illustrated in this case by a dramatic cloud-driven sky that conveys the essential nature of a blustery day, a rising sandy wedge of land that provides a gently sloping diagonal to a lowered horizon on the left, gloriously capped by a silvery band of distanced water. The landscape is populated by figures that have come for the bracing air and together, create a kind of euphoric spectacle of life and living; people admiring the scene just as Salomon van Ruysdael wanted us to admire the picture. A Dune with Figures Resting is a picture full of positivism, an embodiment of a benevolent equilibrium of sea and land and air and water – all experienced by people, whether peasant, or of a more leisurely class — a show of prosperity and harmony.Inquire