The Illusion of the American Frontier
From 03 November 2015 to 07 February 2016
Early booking is recommended
Following his move to Amsterdam in 1660, Jacob van Ruisdael stated that Hobbema had lived with him and served him for various years. This period has been understood as Hobbema’s term of apprenticeship and his contact with Van Ruisdael influenced his style. In addition to this information, further data indicates that the two artists were associated and were friends, for example, the fact that Van Ruisdael was a witness to Hobbema’s marriage to Eeltje Pieters Vinck in 1668. Hobbema’s subject matter is less extensive than Van Ruisdael’s and he focused to a greater extent on woodland scenes, which he repeated with numerous variants. His landscapes lack the depth and spirit of Van Ruisdael’s but they deploy a lively chromatic range of greens, browns and greys used to illuminate a positive vision of nature constructed with delicate forms. For these reasons Hobbema was one of the most highly appreciated landscape painters in the late 19th century and his works achieved high prices on the art market.
Woodland Pond has been dated to the period when the artist was most dependent on Van Ruisdael’s models and in fact, as Nieuwenhuys revealed, this composition is derived from a print by the latter entitled Marshy Woodland with Travellers on the Bank, also known as The Travellers. As with the present canvas, in the print Van Ruisdael included a massive trees with twisted trunk and branches, some of them dead, and with its roots out of the water, and another slanting tree on the right bank with its branches brushing the water. Despite the compositional parallels, Hobbema presented a less oppressive and dramatic vision of the wood by opening up the composition in the centre and thus allowing for a view into a brightly lit clearing in the background. Other differences between the two artists’ approach included the right bank in which Hobbema here omits the stones, tall grass and piles of leaves in the foreground in order to create a more human, less aggressive mood. This area of the painting is used by Hobbema to depict a narrow, winding path with walkers positioned along its course. They located in a clearing in the middle distance, in the foreground and beside the trees in the middle-ground, all included with the intention of guiding the spectator’s gaze into the pictorial space.
There is another larger version of this canvas in the National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, signed and dated 1662, which reveals slight differences with respect to the present painting. Both Van Ruisdael’s print and the Melbourne canvas have been used to date the present work, which Gaskell placed in the early 1660s. That author also bore in mind the adaptations that Hobbema made of Van Ruisdael’s compositions, as well as the treatment of light and the manner of opening up spaces within the wood, which according to Gaskell are all characteristic of this period.