Caravaggio and the Painters of the North
From 21 June to 18 September 2016
Jacob van Ruisdael is documented in Amsterdam in 1657, the date when he applied to be baptised into the Reformed Church. It has been suggested that his reasons for moving to Amsterdam included purely commercial ones related to the art market, as the city offered artists more opportunities and chances of success. Once there, Van Ruisdael widened his range of motifs and started to paint rushing streams, woodland scenes, windmills, winter landscapes and marine views. Between the 1650s and early 1660s the artist devoted himself most actively to exploring the visual possibilities of rushing streams, cascades in forests, rocky areas and windmills, whose forms he had painted against the skyline in his earlier works.
Cultivated fields are a motif to be found in Van Ruisdael’s work from an early date, reappearing in a variety of forms and in different contexts throughout his career. He depicted fields on areas of low land, on hills, on the edges of woods, near the seashore or near the still waters of ponds. These fields of ripe wheat, bathed in a warm light, frequently include (as we see here) figures walking along paths or resting along the edges. Various art historians have drawn attention to the parallels between figures of this type and those that are to be found in the traditional series representing the months of the year or the seasons. Although it might be possible to see Van Ruisdael’s depictions of ripe wheat fields as relating to summer or to the month of August, the idea has been rejected as his views are not particularly similar to those of the earlier type nor do they include figures engaged in any type of agricultural activities.
In the present canvas Van Ruisdael created the pictorial space through the light, achieving a harmonious organisation of the area nearest to the foreground through delicate, balanced contrasts of light and shade. The perspective, as in many of his compositions, is emphasised by the winding path on which we see a herd of cattle and figures, leading the eye into the middle distance. Further into the pictorial space is a village set among the leafy trees whose tops break the horizon line. The particular location depicted in this work has not been identified but it is thought to be close to Naarden with the Zuider Zee visible in the background. The canvas has been dated to the 1660s and has been compared to a painting in the Boijmans Van Beuningen Museum in Rotterdam.