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Arthur K. Wheelock Jr., “Jacob van Ruisdael/Forest Scene/c. 1655,” Dutch Paintings of the Seventeenth Century, NGA Online Editions, http://purl.org/nga/collection/artobject/1219 (accessed December 22, 2014).

 

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Apr 24, 2014 Version
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Overview

Jacob van Ruisdael represents the pinnacle of seventeenth-century Dutch landscape painting. This great artist, the son of a painter and the nephew of Salomon van Ruysdael (see NGA 2007.116.1), began his career in Haarlem but moved to Amsterdam in about 1656. His long and productive career yielded a wide variety of landscape scenes that reflect Ruisdael’s vision of the grandeur and powerful forces of nature.

His most characteristic paintings include massive trees that tower above a rocky countryside, in which human figures seem dwarfed by the elements of nature. The scale and solemn dignity of Forest Scene make it one of Ruisdael’s masterpieces. The man and woman walking along a path near some grazing sheep in the middle distance are insignificant in comparison to the broad waterfall, the massive rocks, and the huge fallen birch tree in the foreground. The somber mood is reinforced by ominous clouds and by the dark green of the grass and foliage. Trees with twisted roots survive precariously on rocky outcroppings. The broken trees in the foreground are important not only as compositional devices but also as symbolic reminders of the transience of life and the inevitability of death.

Entry

Ruisdael’s majestic forest landscape overpowers the viewer with its large scale and the forcefulness of the image. The view is across a broad waterfall to a forest glade, in which a small flock of sheep grazes. In the middle distance, a man and a woman travel along a path that crosses the rolling hillside. The figures, however, seem all but insignificant in comparison to the massive trees and rocks that surround them. The broad, rocky ledge with its waterfall and gigantic, broken birch trees in the foreground is at once forbidding and foreboding.[1] On a rock outcropping to the right, a huge oak tree, its roots grappling for support and nourishment, towers above the forest. The stark, gray, cloudy sky and deep greenish hues of the foliage underscore the painting’s somber mood.

Ruisdael painted such forest scenes of water roaring over a rocky ledge many times during his long and productive career. As suggested by the half-timbered house visible in a similar landscape in Frankfurt [fig. 1], he may have encountered such landscape elements on his travels along the Dutch-German border in the early 1650s. The National Gallery of Art’s painting also shares compositional characteristics with a landscape with a waterfall by Ruisdael in the Uffizi, Florence [fig. 2], including the diminutive figures and sheep.[2]

Few of Ruisdael’s paintings after 1653 are dated, so a precise chronology of his work is not possible. The general evolution of his style and range of interests, though, is now understood, and a framework exists for placing his works within certain time periods. The Uffizi painting, with its loose brushwork and more open composition, belongs to the 1670s, while the National Gallery’s landscape with its closed composition and densely painted trees, is characteristic of works from the mid-1650s. Also distinctive for this earlier period of Ruisdael’s career is the combination of the scene’s rather heavy and somber mood and the delicacy of the artist’s painterly touch. In this work, for example, he carefully articulated individual blades of grass and leaves, patterns of bark, and the flow of the water cascading over the rocks.

In many respects Forest Scene shares characteristics with The Jewish Cemetery in Dresden [fig. 3]. Although the subject and lighting effects are more dramatic in the Dresden painting than in Forest Scene, the mood, the closed composition, and the descriptive character of Ruisdael’s technique for rendering details are comparable. The two paintings even share certain motifs, such as the presence of wild viburnum growing along the edge of the forest. The date of The Jewish Cemetery has been much debated, with suggestions ranging from 1653/1655 to 1679.[3] A broad consensus, however, places it and the Detroit version of the same subject in the mid-1650s, a date likewise appropriate for the National Gallery’s work.[4]

Given the compositional and stylistic similarities between Forest Scene and The Jewish Cemetery, one must also ask whether thematic ones exist as well. As has been frequently discussed, the presence of tombs, ruins, broken tree trunks, dead birches, and rainbows in the two versions of The Jewish Cemetery have explicit allegorical significance. They allude to the transience of life, particularly the temporal nature of man’s endeavors, and also to the hope for renewed growth.[5] Similar symbolic allusions to the power and force of the cycle of nature were almost certainly attached to the compositional elements of the National Gallery’s painting. The dramatic forms of the tree stumps and the fallen birch trees establish the scene’s tenor,[6] but directly behind them grow the viburnum bushes that flower in the spring, the time of life’s renewal. The stream itself, which also has a symbolic function in The Jewish Cemetery, traditionally has served as a metaphor for the continuum of the forces of nature.

Arthur K. Wheelock Jr.

April 24, 2014

Inscription

lower right: J v Ruisdael (JvR in ligature)

  • Inscription

Marks and Labels

null

Provenance

Probably owned by Francis Nathaniel, 2nd marquess Conyngham [1797-1876], Mount Charles, County Donegal, and Minster Abbey, Kent.[1] Sir Hugh Hume-Campbell, 7th bart. [1812-1894], Marchmont House, Borders, Scotland, by 1857;[2] (his estate sale, Christie, Manson, & Woods, London, 16 June 1894, no. 48); (P. & D. Colnaghi & Co., London); sold 1894 to Peter A.B. Widener, Lynnewood Hall, Elkins Park, Pennsylvania; inheritance from Estate of Peter A.B. Widener by gift through power of appointment of Joseph E. Widener, Elkins Park, Pennsylvania; gift 1942 to NGA.

Exhibition History

1866
British Institution for Promoting the Fine Arts in the United Kingdom, London, 1866, no. 59 (possibly also 1855, no. 54, and 1857, no. 9).[1]
1877
Exhibition of Works by the Old Masters and by Deceased Masters of the British School. Winter Exhibition, Royal Academy of Arts, London, 1877, no. 199.

Exhibition History Notes

[1] Hugh Hume Campbell lent a Ruisdael painting to three British Institution exhibitions, in 1855, 1857, and 1866. None of the three exhibition catalogues, however, gives any description of the pictures exhibited, making positive identification difficult. By the time Gustav Waagen wrote his Treasures of Art in Great Britain in 1854-1857, Campbell owned three Ruisdaels, and so it is not necessarily correct to assume that the Ruisdael painting Campbell lent to the 1855 exhibition (Landscape), or to the 1857 exhibition (Landscape with Figures), was Forest Scene. In the case of the 1866 exhibition, however, the more specific title of Rocky Landscape with Waterfall does not fit either of the other two Campbell Ruisdaels described by Waagen. Assuming that Campbell did not acquire another comparable Ruisdael painting between 1857 and 1866, it seems certain that Forest Scene was the painting shown in 1866.

Bibliography

1854
Waagen, Gustav Friedrich. Treasures of Art in Great Britain: Being an Account of the Chief Collections of Paintings, Drawings, Sculptures, Illuminated Mss.. 3 vols. Translated by Elizabeth Rigby Eastlake. London, 1854: supplement 441.
1855
British Institution for Promoting the Fine Arts in the United Kingdom. Catalogue of pictures by Italian, Spanish, Flemish, Dutch, French and English masters with which the proprietors have favoured the Institution. Exh. cat. British Institution. London, 1855: possibly no. 54, as Landscape.
1857
British Institution for Promoting the Fine Arts in the United Kingdom. Catalogue of pictures by Italian, Spanish, Flemish, Dutch, French and English masters with which the proprietors have favoured the Institution. Exh. cat. British Institution. London, 1857: possibly no. 9, as Landscape and Figures.
1857
Waagen, Gustav Friedrich. Galleries and Cabinets of Art in Great Britain: Being an Account of more than Forty Collections of Paintings, Drawings, Sculptures, Mss., &c.&c., visited in 1854 and 1856, ..., forming a supplemental volume to the "Treasures of Art in Great Britain". London, 1857: 441.
1866
British Institution for Promoting the Fine Arts in the United Kingdom. Catalogue of pictures by Italian, Spanish, Flemish, Dutch, Franch, and English masters. Exh. cat. British Institution. London, 1866: no. 59, as Rocky Landscape with Waterfall.
1877
Royal Academy of Arts. Exhibition of Works by the Old Masters and by Deceased Masters of the British School. Winter Exhibition. Exh. cat. Royal Academy of Arts, London, 1877: no. 199.
1885
_Catalogue of Paintings Forming the Collection of P.A.B. Widener, Ashbourne, near Philadelphia. 2 vols. Paris, 1885-1900: 2(1900):274.
1907
Hofstede de Groot, Cornelis. A Catalogue Raisonné of the Works of the Most Eminent Dutch Painters of the Seventeenth Century. 8 vols. Translated by Edward G. Hawke. London, 1907-1927: 4(1912):92, no. 285 (possibly also 119, no. 367, 134, no. 418, 203, no. 643c).
1907
Hofstede de Groot, Cornelis. Beschreibendes und kritisches Verzeichnis der Werke der hervorragendsten holländischen Maler des XVII. Jahrhunderts. 10 vols. Esslingen and Paris, 1907-1928: 4(1911):87, no. 285 (possibly also 111, no. 367, 125, no. 418, 192, no. 643c).
1913
Hofstede de Groot, Cornelis, and Wilhelm R. Valentiner. Pictures in the collection of P. A. B. Widener at Lynnewood Hall, Elkins Park, Pennsylvania: Early German, Dutch & Flemish Schools. Philadelphia, 1913: unpaginated, repro.
1923
_Paintings in the Collection of Joseph Widener at Lynnewood Hall. Intro. by Wilhelm R. Valentiner. Elkins Park, Pennsylvania, 1923: unpaginated, repro.
1928
Rosenberg, Jakob. Jacob van Ruisdael. Berlin, 1928: 87, no. 241.
1930
Simon, Kurt Erich. Jacob van Ruisdael: eine Darstellung seiner Entwicklung. Berlin, 1930: 62, pl. 8.
1931
_Paintings in the Collection of Joseph Widener at Lynnewood Hall. Intro. by Wilhelm R. Valentiner. Elkins Park, Pennsylvania, 1931: 94, repro.
1935
Tietze, Hans. Meisterwerke europäischer Malerei in Amerika. Vienna, 1935: 338, no. 192.
1939
Tietze, Hans. Masterpieces of European Painting in America. New York, 1939: no. 192.
1942
National Gallery of Art. Works of art from the Widener collection. Washington, 1942: 6.
1948
National Gallery of Art. Paintings and Sculpture from the Widener Collection. Washington, 1948: 58, repro.
1952
Cairns, Huntington, and John Walker, eds., Great Paintings from the National Gallery of Art. New York, 1952: 108, color repro.
1957
Shapley, Fern Rusk. Comparisons in Art: A Companion to the National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC. London, 1957 (reprinted 1959): pl. 143.
1959
National Gallery of Art. Paintings and Sculpture from the Widener Collection. Reprint. Washington, DC, 1959: 58, repro.
1960
Baird, Thomas P. Dutch Painting in the National Gallery of Art. Ten Schools of Painting in the National Gallery of Art 7. Washington, 1960: 18, color repro.
1960
_The National Gallery of Art and Its Collections. Foreword by Perry B. Cott and notes by Otto Stelzer. National Gallery of Art, Washington (undated, 1960s): 25.
1963
Walker, John. National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C. New York, 1963 (reprinted 1964 in French, German, and Spanish): 194-195, no. 676, repro.
1965
National Gallery of Art. Summary Catalogue of European Paintings and Sculpture. Washington, 1965: 119.
1966
Cairns, Huntington, and John Walker, eds. A Pageant of Painting from the National Gallery of Art. 2 vols. New York, 1966: 1: 252, color repro.
1968
National Gallery of Art. European Paintings and Sculpture, Illustrations. Washington, 1968: 106, repro.
1975
National Gallery of Art. European paintings: An Illustrated Summary Catalogue. Washington, 1975: 316, repro.
1975
Walker, John. National Gallery of Art, Washington. New York, 1975: 292-293, no. 391, color repro.
1979
Watson, Ross. The National Gallery of Art, Washington. New York, 1979: 77, pl. 64.
1981
Schmidt, Winfried. Studien zur Landschaftskunst Jacob van Ruisdaels: Frühwerke und Wanderjahre. Hildesheim, 1981: 90.
1984
Britsch, Ralph A., and Todd A. Britsch. The arts in Western culture. Englewood Cliffs, NJ, 1984: 258, fig. 11-16.
1984
Walker, John. National Gallery of Art, Washington. Rev. ed. New York, 1984: 292, no. 384, color repro.
1984
Wheelock, Arthur K., Jr. Dutch Painting in the National Gallery of Art. Washington, D.C., 1984: 36-37, color repro.
1985
National Gallery of Art. European Paintings: An Illustrated Catalogue. Washington, 1985: 363, repro.
1986
Sutton, Peter C. A Guide to Dutch Art in America. Washington and Grand Rapids, 1986: 305.
1991
Walford, E. John. Jacob van Ruisdael and the Perception of Landscape. New Haven, 1991: 102-104, 117, 144, repro.
1992
National Gallery of Art. National Gallery of Art, Washington. New York, 1992: 136, color repro.
1995
Katz, Elizabeth L., E. Louis Lankford, and Janice D. Plank. Themes and foundations of art. Minneapolis, 1995: 452, fig. 8-101.
1995
Wheelock, Arthur K., Jr. Dutch Paintings of the Seventeenth Century. The Collections of the National Gallery of Art Systematic Catalogue. Washington, 1995: 339-343, color repro. 341.
2001
Slive, Seymour. Jacob van Ruisdael: A Complete Catalogue of his Paintings, Drawings and Etchings. New Haven, 2001: 243-244, no. 295.
2002
Hunt, John Dixon. The picturesque garden in Europe. New York, 2002: 17, fig. 13.
2004
Allen, Eva J. A Vision of Nature: The Landscapes of Philip Koch: Retrospective, 1971-2004. Exh. cat. University of Maryland University College, Adelphi, 2004: 14-15, fig. 6.
2004
Hand, John Oliver. National Gallery of Art: Master Paintings from the Collection. Washington and New York, 2004: 204-205, no. 162, color repro.
2005
Slive, Seymour. Jacob van Ruisdael: Master of Landscape. Exh. cat. Los Angeles County Museum of Art; Philadelphia Museum of Art; Royal Academy of Arts, London. London, 2005: no. 32, 108, 109 repro.
2006
Schwartz, Sanford. "White Secrets." New York Review of Books (February 9, 2006): 8.
2012
Tummers, Anna. The Eye of the Connoisseur: Authenticating Paintings by Rembrandt and His Contemporaries. Amsterdam, 2012: 101, color fig. 46.

Technical Summary

The support is a medium-weight fabric with a somewhat uneven weave. The painting was lined to two pieces of fabric in 1942, at which time an old lining was removed, as was a discolored varnish.[1] The tacking margins have been flattened, inpainted, and incorporated into the picture plane, extending the painting’s dimensions by approximately one inch on all four sides. The support was prepared with a thin, white ground. The paint was applied thinly in areas such as the water and some of the clouds, but thicker with some impasto in other areas such as the foliage and the highlights. The X-radiographs reveal that the artist originally painted the top of the waterfall to extend all the way to the large rock on the left side of the painting.

Minute paint losses are scattered throughout the painting, particularly in the tall tree on the left and the large tree on the right. The paint has blistered in the top left and top center of the painting.[2] Although the painting is in relatively good condition, there is a fair amount of abrasion in the sky. The painting was treated again in 2000 to remove the then discolored varnish and inpainting from the 1942 treatment. Dark stains in the clouds were inpainted at this time.

 

[1] This treatment is documented in an unsigned report from M. Knoedler & Company, Inc. (see report dated April 9, 1942, in NGA Conservation files). Presumably this treatment was performed by Louis de Wild, a New York restorer who worked on paintings for Knoedler & Company (see notes dated February 2, 1968, in NGA Conservation department files).

[2] This was probably caused by a previous lining procedure during which too much heat was used. The blisters were already present at the time of the 1942 treatment, and they are documented in the April 9, 1942, report (see Technical Summary note 1).

Related IconClass Terms

11R7
scenes symbolizing vanitas
25G3
birch +used symbolically
25H15
forest
25H216
waterfall
42E31
tombs +used symbolically

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Forest Scene
  • Comparable Figure
    [fig. 1] Jacob van Ruisdael, Forest Scene with Waterfall, mid-1650s, oil on canvas, Städelsches Kunstinstitut Frankfurt. Photo: Ursula Edelmann
    Compare Image
  • Comparable Figure
    [fig. 2] Jacob van Ruisdael, Landscape with Waterfall, 1670s, oil on canvas, Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence
    Compare Image
  • Comparable Figure
    [fig. 3] Jacob van Ruisdael, The Jewish Cemetery, mid-1650s, oil on canvas, Staatliche Kunstsammlungen, Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister, Dresden. Photo: Elke Estel / Hans-Peter Klut
    Compare Image
  • [1]

    The identification of the foreground trees as birches was made by Dr. Henry M. Cathey, director, U.S. National Arboretum, Washington, DC, in conversation on September 25, 1985. According to Peter Ashton, Alice Davies, and Seymour Slive, “Jacob van Ruisdael’s Trees,” Arnoldia 42 (1982): 2–31, Ruisdael depicted beeches rather than birches. For the purposes of this entry the trees will be referred to as birches.

  • [2]

    Seymour Slive, Jacob van Ruisdael: A Complete Catalogue of His Paintings, Drawings, and Etchings (New Haven, 2001), 244, no. 296. Slive also identifies a related composition from the mid-1650s in a New York private collection, 219, no. 243.

  • [3]

    Seymour Slive, Jacob van Ruisdael (New York, 1981), 68. Here, in the bibliography to his catalog entry for the Detroit version of The Jewish Cemetery, Slive lists the dates that various authors have ascribed to each of Ruisdael’s two treatments of the subject. (Slive places both paintings in the mid-1650s.) E. John Walford, Jacob van Ruisdael and the Perception of Landscape (New Haven, 1991), 95, dates the two versions of The Jewish Cemetery to “about 1653/4.”

  • [4]

    A much later date for Forest Scene is not likely because by the mid-1660s Ruisdael had begun to paint his large vertical Scandinavian waterfall scenes that were derived from the example of Allart van Everdingen (Dutch, 1621 - 1675). In these works Ruisdael developed a greater looseness of touch, particularly in representing the spray of water falling over rocks, than is evident in Forest Scene.

  • [5]

    See Seymour Slive, Jacob van Ruisdael (New York, 1981), 34; also Yuri Kuznetsov, “Sur le symbolisme dans les paysages de Jacob van Ruisdael,” Bulletin du Musée National de Varsovie 14 (1973): 31–41.

  • [6]

    The visual power and symbolism of the dead birch captured the imagination of the art critic Sanford Schwartz in 2006: “the fallen, broken bough of a huge white birch, trapped between rocks and the waterfall, and set off to the side of the scene, has the presence of the painting’s chief actor of conscience. Presenting an image of loss and pain but also of virility, anger, and gracefulness, the tree is like one of Rembrandt’s people. . . . In its stark, chalky white and black bark, the birch is at once a victim, a hero, and a figure who stands outside the drama, thinking about it.”  Sanford Schwartz, “White Secrets,” New York Review (February 9, 2006), 8.