Salomon van Ruysdael’s masterful River Landscape with Ferry has a visual force that reflects the sense of pride the Dutch felt at the time of the signing of the Treaty of Münster in 1648, which gave full autonomy to the Dutch Republic. After war of independence from Spanish rule that lasted eighty years, the Dutch set out to explore the myriad visual delights of the prosperous country that they could finally claim as their own. Many went east, along the Rhine River, to see historic cities such as Nijmegen and Rhenen that had played significant roles in the formation of the Republic. Ruysdael may have traveled along these same routes, but no drawings from his hand survive to document any such journey. The large crenulated castle in this painting is a fanciful construct, but it is reminiscent of fortresslike structures situated along the Rhine in the eastern region of the Netherlands.
Ruysdael painted River Landscape with Ferry in 1649 when the full scope of his artistic personality had come to maturity. The work is imposing in scale and visually compelling, both for its harmonious composition and for the rich variety of its pictorial elements. It has wonderful atmospheric qualities, subtle reflections in the water, and delightful figures crowded into the ferryboat. The large clump of trees centers the composition and provides a sturdy framework for the animals and humans activating the scene. Ruysdael also effectively used these trees to open the sense of space, for not only does the ferryboat pass before them, but wagons loaded with passengers also travel the track behind them.
With the outbreak of World War II in the Netherlands, art dealer Jacques Goudstikker fled Amsterdam with his wife and son in May 1940, but he died in an accident on board the ship carrying him and his family to safety. He left behind most of his gallery's stock of paintings, and the Goudstikker collection, including this work by Ruysdael, was confiscated by the Nazis and delivered to Reichsmarschall Hermann Göring later that year. The Allied forces recovered the painting at the end of the war, and it was returned to the State of the Netherlands in 1948. The painting was on view in the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam, from 1960 until 2006, at which time the heirs of Jacques Goudstikker reclaimed the collection from the Dutch government and received the restituted paintings. The National Gallery of Art acquired River Landscape with Ferry when a number of Goudstikker paintings subsequently reentered the art market.
Salomon van Ruysdael delighted in depicting the rhythms of daily life along the banks of the Dutch waterways. Such scenes included boats sailing gently across placid waters, fishermen casting nets under the shadow of overarching trees, and travelers packed tightly into a ferryboat, sharing their ride with wagons, horses, and cattle. One often finds a small village nestled on the distant shore, replete with a large church towering over the gabled homes surrounding it. In River Landscape with Ferry Salomon chose to depict a massive turreted stone castle, indicative of the historic role that prominent Dutch families played in establishing the political and social structure of this proud land.
Ruysdael painted this masterpiece in 1649, when the full scope of his artistic personality had come to maturity.
This work is one of fourteen paintings by Salomon van Ruysdael that are dated 1649. See Wolfgang Stechow, Salomon van Ruysdael: Eine Einführung in seine Kunst (Berlin, 1938; rev. ed., 1975), 140.
In this painting one can almost sense the gentle breezes moving across the water and the rustling of leaves under the splendidly fresh, windswept skies. The relatively low-level cumulus clouds passing overhead are of a type found on cool, refreshing days in mid-to-late spring when leaves still have the yellow-green tonalities of new growth.
I would like to thank David O’C. Starr, Head, Mesoscale Atmospheric Processes Branch, NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, for his observations about weather and cloud formations in this painting (correspondence in NGA curatorial files, April 10, 2009).
I would like to thank Perry Chapman (personal communication) for this observation. Ferryboats also occasionally served as the setting for dialogues found in contemporary political pamphlets. See Craig Harline, Pamphlets, Printing, and Political Culture in the Early Dutch Republic (Dordrecht, 1987).
The painting’s fine state of preservation adds to the freshness of the scene. Still visible are vigorous striations left by Ruysdael’s brush where it swept across the canvas to create the low clouds near the horizon, striations that disappear in areas where he subsequently inserted buildings, boats, or trees over the wet paint. The delicacy of his touch is also remarkable in the foreground trees, where blue green, pale green, and yellow capture the sparkle of light illuminating the foliage.
Ruysdael may have, in part, created the light, flickering character of the foliage by applying paint with a sponge or lichen (see Technical Summary). A comparable technique is seen in the foliage in paintings by Jan van der Heyden (see
River Landscape with Ferry has a visual force that reflects the pride they felt in the Dutch Republic around 1648, when the signing of the Treaty of Münster formalized the independence of the Dutch Republic following the Eighty Years’ War with Spain. In no other painting, however, does Ruysdael express the sense of well-being as fully as he does in this work. The Dutch could travel throughout their peaceful and prosperous realm by carriage and boat to explore its myriad visual delights without fear of marauders or foreign troops. Many went east, along the Rhine River, to see historic cities such as Nijmegen and Rhenen that had been so important to the formation of the Dutch Republic. Ruysdael may have passed along the same routes, for he depicted cities in the eastern part of the Netherlands around mid-century; yet, unlike the case of
For Ruysdael’s The Valkhof at Nijmegen, 1652, and his view of Rhenen at Sunset, 1660, see Ariane van Suchtelen and Arthur K. Wheelock Jr., Pride of Place: Dutch Cityscapes of the Golden Age (The Hague, 2008), 164–165, no. 38; 47, fig. 35.
As is often the case in Ruysdael’s work, the castle probably derives from the artist’s imagination, in this case perhaps inspired by the castle at Wijk bij Duurstede. See Wolfgang Stechow, Salomon van Ruysdael: Eine Einführung in seine Kunst (Berlin, 1938; rev. ed., 1975), 51. Recognizable buildings in imaginary settings are also found in his paintings. See: J. W. Niemeijer, “Het topografisch element in enkele riviergezichten van Salomon van Ruysdael nader beschouwd,” Oud-Holland 74 (1959): 51–56; H. J. J. Scholtens, “Salomon van Ruysdael in de contreien van Holland’s landengte,” Oud-Holland 77 (1962): 1–10; and Peter C. Sutton, Reclaimed: Paintings from the Collection of Jacques Goudstikker (Greenwich, CT, 2008), 172–175, no. 21.
When creating this painting in 1649, Ruysdael built upon a framework developed in a number of his earlier works from that decade.
See Peter C. Sutton, Reclaimed: Paintings from the Collection of Jacques Goudstikker (Greenwich, CT, 2008) 178, fig. 1, which depicts a painting by Ruysdael, dated 1641, with a comparable composition.
Beyond its outstanding artistic qualities, River Landscape with Ferry has had a fascinating place in the complex history of the Nazi and postwar eras that adds to the work’s cultural significance. In 1930 Jacques Goudstikker, a prominent Jewish dealer of Old Master paintings in Amsterdam, acquired this painting at a Christie’s sale in London (see Provenance). Goudstikker was a great admirer of Ruysdael’s work at a time when his importance for the development of Dutch landscape painting was little understood.
See Wolfgang Stechow, Salomon van Ruysdael: Eine Einführung in seine Kunst (Berlin, 1938; rev. ed., 1975), 9, who, in his foreword, laments that Ruysdael’s artistic significance in the history of Dutch landscape had been so overlooked by the end of the nineteenth century. He expressly states that he hopes his book will help return the artist to his justified place in the hierarchy of Dutch painters.
Tentoonstelling van Werken door Salomon van Ruysdael, Kunsthandel J. Goudstikker N.V., Amsterdam, January–February 1936, no. 34, as De Veerpont.
For fuller accountings of this complex story, see Pieter den Hollander, “Recht op de Bocht,” in De Gouden Bocht van Amsterdam, ed. Milko den Leeuw and Martin Pruijs, (The Hague, 2006), 296–307; Lynn H. Nicholas, “A Long Odyssey: The Goudstikker Collection,” in the catalog of the Goudstikker sale, Christie’s New York (April 19, 2007), 9–11; and Peter C. Sutton, Reclaimed: Paintings from the Collection of Jacques Goudstikker (Greenwich, CT, 2008).
After the war, the Allies recovered the painting and turned it over to the Dutch authorities in 1946. A special Dutch Recuperation Commission decided against returning the painting to the family despite years of protest by Goudstikker’s widow, Desirée. In 1960 the painting was placed on view at the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam, where it hung in pride of place until 2006. The complex story of the Goudstikker case was reexamined by a special restitution committee in 2005, which recommended that the Dutch government reverse its earlier decision. The painting was returned to the Goudstikker heirs, who sold it privately to the National Gallery in 2007.
Arthur K. Wheelock Jr.
April 24, 2014
on the ferry below the white horse: Salomon v. Ruysdael. 1649
Possibly Major Hugh Edward Wilbraham, M.B.E. [1857-1930], Delamere House, near Northwich, Cheshire; by inheritance to his son, George Hugh de Vernon Wilbraham [1890-1962], Delamere House; (his sale, Christie, Manson & Woods, London, 18 July 1930, no. 33); (Jacques Goudstikker, Amsterdam); restituted 6 February 2006 to his daughter-in-law, Marei von Saher, Greenwich, Connecticut; purchased 5 November 2007 through (Christie's, New York) by NGA.
- Nouvelles Acquisitions de la Collection Goudstikker, Kunsthandel J. Goudstikker, Amsterdam; Kunstkring, Rotterdam, 1930-1931, no. 65, repro.
- Cinq siècles d'art, Exposition Universelle et Internationale, Brussels, 1935, no. 767, under Paintings, as Le bac.
- Tentoonstelling van Oude Kunst, Frans Hals Museum, Haarlem, April 1936, no. 34, under Paintings, as De Veerpont.
- Tentoonstelling van Oude Kunst uit het bezit van den Internationalen Handel, Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam, 1936, no. 142, repro., as De Veerpont.
- Tentoonstelling van Schilderijen en Antiquiteiten, Kunsthandel J. Goudstikker N.V., Rotterdamschen Kunstkring, December 1936-January 1937, no. 57, repro., as De Veerpont.
- Tentoonstelling van Werken door Salomon van Ruysdael, Kunsthandel J. Goudstikker N.V., Amsterdam, January-February 1936, no. 34, as De Veerpont.
- Dutch Paintings, Etchings, Drawings, Delftware of the Seventeenth Century, John Herron Art Museum, Indianapolis, 1937, no. 65, repro., as The Ferry Boat.
- Herwonnen Kunstbezit, Koninklijk Kabinet van Schilderijen Mauritshuis, The Hague, 1946, no. 55.
- Paintings Looted from Holland Returned through the Efforts of The United States Armed Forces, multi-venue tour in the United States and Canada, 1946-1948, nos. 36 and 39 (two editions of catalogue), as A Ferry.
- Holländer des 17. Jahrhunderts, Kunsthaus Zürich, 1953, no. 134, as Landschaft mit Fähre.
- Dutch Painting: The Golden Age. An Exhibition of Dutch Pictures of the Seventeenth Century, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; Toledo (Ohio) Museum of Art; Art Gallery of Toronto, 1954-1955, no. 73, repro., as The Ferry Boat.
- Mostra di Pittura Olandese del Seicento, Palazzo delle Esposizioni, Rome; Palazzo Reale, Milan, January-April 1954, no. 133 (Rome catalogue), no. 136 (Milan catalogue).
- Reclaimed: Paintings from the Collection of Jacques Goudstikker, Bruce Museum of Arts and Science, Greenwich, Connecticut; The Jewish Museum, New York; The Marion Koogler McNay Art Museum, San Antonio, and other United States venues, 2008-2010, no. 22, repro. (shown only in Greenwich, New York, and San Antonio).
- Hennus, M. F. "Tentoonstellingen: Amsterdam: ...Salomon van Ruysdael bij Goudstikker." Maandblad voor Beeldende Kunsten 58 (1936): 58.
- Heppner, Arnold. Internationale Kunstwelt 1936): 32, ill. 2.
- Heppner, A. "Salomon van Ruysdael: Spezialausstellung bei Goudstikker in Amsterdam." Internationale Kunstwelt (February 1936): 32, ill. 2.
- Stechow, Wolfgang. Salomon van Ruysdael, eine Einführung in seine Kunst. Berlin, 1938: 124, no. 358, pl. 24, no. 33
- Gerson, Horst. De Nederlandse Schilderkunst, vol. 2: Het tijdperk van Rembrandt en Vermeer. De Schoonheid van Ons Land, 11. Amsterdam, 1952: 44, fig. 122.
- Meijer, Emile R. "Salomon Jacobszoon van Ruysdael (kort na 1600-1670) 'Rivierlandschap met veerpont'." Kunstschrift Openbaar Kunstbezit 6 (1962): 35a-35b, repro.
- Stechow, Wolfgang. Salomon van Ruysdael: eine Einführung in seine Kunst: mit kritischem Katalog der Gemälde. Revised 2nd ed. Berlin, 1975: 123, no. 358, pl. 24, fig. 33.
- Thiel, Pieter J. J. van, et al. All the Paintings of the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam: a completely illustrated catalogue. Translated by Gary Schwartz and Marianne Buikstra-de Boer. Maarssen, 1976: 489, no. A3983, repro.
- Sutton, Peter C. Reclaimed: paintings from the Collection of Jacques Goudstikker. Exh. cat. Bruce Museum of Arts and Science, Greenwich, Connecticut; The Jewish Museum, New York. Greenwich and New Haven, 2008: 176-179, no. 22.
- Wheelock, Arthur K., Jr. "Salomon van Ruysdael, River Landscape with Ferry." National Gallery of Art Bulletin, no. 39 (Fall 2008): 28-29, repro.
The painting is on a medium-weight, plain-weave fabric. The tacking margins have been removed and the painting has been lined. Moderate cusping exists along the sides and top edge. The ground is a thick, white layer and the paint has been vigorously applied using a wet-into-wet technique. Low impasto and clear brushstrokes are found throughout the composition. The tree foliage appears to have been applied with a sponge as well as a brush.
The painting is in fairly good condition. A long tear is found in the upper left section of the sky and there are numerous tiny craters in the paint, which are most notable in the sky. These craters may have been caused by overheating in a past lining process. The paint and ground have suffered from tenting and flaking in the lower quarter of the painting, resulting in a fair amount of small losses in this area. The painting was treated between 2007 and 2008 to consolidate the paint in this area and to remove discolored varnish and overpaint.
Related IconClass Terms
- river bank
- landscape with tower or castle
- man and animal
- revolution +Dutch Revolt
- blessings of peace
- communal life
- traffic on the water
- sailing ship
- artist +Jan Brueghel the Elder + influence of