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Arthur K. Wheelock Jr., “Jacob van Ruisdael/Country House in a Park/c. 1675,” Dutch Paintings of the Seventeenth Century, NGA Online Editions, http://purl.org/nga/collection/artobject/46005 (accessed December 10, 2016).

 

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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.

Depictions of elegant country houses came into vogue in the latter half of the seventeenth century as increasing numbers of wealthy Dutch merchants built homes along the river Vecht and in other picturesque locations in the Dutch Republic. Yet not all of these seemingly accurate representations portray real structures; sometimes the scenes were purely imaginary, intended to project an ideal of country existence rather than its actuality. In this painting, Ruisdael, who depicted views of country houses only at the end of his career, either created an imaginary view of a country estate or superimposed the existing town home of a patron onto this scene of a wilderness garden. The house, with a yellow façade articulated by pilasters, a stringcourse, and a balustrade, would be very much at home on the bank of an Amsterdam canal.

The garden seems to be an artistic invention as well. The natural and artificial components of Ruisdael’s garden are enjoyed by the various groups of people who amble about. An elaborate fountain, surmounted by a small sculpted figure of a boy, is counterbalanced by an even more dramatic fountain in the right center. Just beyond, two figures gesture in surprise as they are startled by the water from a trick fountain spurting up around them. The soaring Norwegian spruces, exotic specimens native to Scandinavia that had been used in Dutch gardens since at least the 1640s, provide visual depth as well as striking contrasts with the cloudy sky.

Entry

Depictions of elegant country houses came into vogue in the latter half of the seventeenth century as increasing numbers of wealthy Dutch merchants built homes along the river Vecht and in other picturesque locations in the Netherlands. Artists who specialized in architectural painting, among them Jan van der Heyden (Dutch, 1637 - 1712), depicted the houses and gardens in great detail. Surprisingly, however, not all of these seemingly accurate representations portray actual structures; sometimes the scenes were purely imaginary, intended to project an ideal of country existence rather than its actuality (see Van der Heyden’s An Architectural Fantasy). Ruisdael, who painted views of country houses only rarely during his long career, was not an artist who felt constrained to convey a precise record of an actual site, and it seems probable that this view of a country estate is an imaginative reconstruction of one he had seen.

The elegant classicist villa standing beyond the informal, almost wilderness garden in this painting contains architectural elements characteristic of country houses from the period.[1] The façade of the yellow two-story structure in the National Gallery of Art’s painting is articulated by pilasters, a stringcourse, and a balustrade. A triangular pediment, flanked by vases and small dormers, crowns the central bay. While no known structure in the Netherlands or in the western part of Germany is identical, the façade that most resembles this villa is Vredenburgh, designed by Pieter Jansz Post (Netherlandish, 1608 - 1669) and constructed on Frederick Alewijn’s estate in the Purmer polder near Westwijk in 1652. Long since destroyed and known today only through a contemporary engraving, the façade of Vredenburgh differs in that it has giant pilasters rising the whole height of the building and no stringcourse or balustrade.[2]

Far more important for the composition than the villa, however, is the garden. The tall Norwegian spruces that soar above the other trees would have been seen by Ruisdael’s contemporaries as exotic specimens imported from Scandinavia.[3] They have been somewhat randomly placed within a form of pleasure garden, whose natural and artificial components are enjoyed by the various groups of people that meander through the grounds. On the far right figures gather near the entrance of a large vaulted pavilion covered with foliage. On the opposite side of the garden three figures gaze at an elaborate fountain, which is surmounted by a small sculpted figure of a manneken pis (peeing boy). An even more dramatic fountain is situated in the right center. Balanced in the waterspout high above the base is a small ball. Just beyond this fountain two figures gesture in surprise as they are suddenly caught within a trick fountain spurting up around them.

Although the form of the pavilion and trick fountains were garden elements that existed by the late seventeenth century,[4] Ruisdael does not seem to have based his scene on any particular site.[5] It would be most unusual for formal garden elements, such as pavilions and fountains, to be placed within such a wilderness garden. Wilderness gardens, moreover, were generally not placed adjacent to classicist villas where formal gardens, geometrically designed and meticulously groomed, were to be found at both the front and back of the house. Indeed, given the existence of the broken pine lying in the left foreground and the architectural fragment, perhaps a broken cornice, lying in the lower right, it would seem that Ruisdael’s intent was more didactic than topographic. These two elements, symbolic of the passage of time and the transience of existence, serve as a framework against which to measure the frivolous activities of the pleasure garden.[6]

In part because the painting lacks the heroic drama of Ruisdael’s scenes from the middle of his career and in part because the brushwork is quite restrained, scholars have always placed Country House in a Park at the end of Ruisdael’s career. The restoration of the painting in 1993, however, has revealed that the brushwork and color tonalities are far more vibrant than had been believed, which suggests that the painting may date from the mid-1670s rather than around 1680 as had previously been thought. The style of the costumes worn by the staffage figures would also be possible for the mid-1670s. The painting, in any event, certainly predates two related, but weaker, late works by Ruisdael, Country House in a Park in Berlin [fig. 1] and Chateau in the Park (Fisher Gallery, University of Southern California, Los Angeles).[7]

Ruisdael often collaborated with artists who executed staffage figures in his compositions, particularly at the end of his life. Similar figures in other paintings by Ruisdael from the 1670s appear to have been executed by the Rotterdam artist Gerrit van Battem (c. 1636–1684). The figures in this work, however, lack the solidity characteristic of Van Battem’s style.[8] Indeed, there is neither technical nor stylistic evidence to indicate that anyone other than Ruisdael executed them.

Arthur K. Wheelock Jr.

April 24, 2014

Inscription

lower left: J v Ruisdael (JvR in ligature)

Inscription

Provenance

Savile family, Rufford Abbey, Nottinghamshire, possibly Sir John Savile, 1st baron Savile [1818-1896], or his nephew John Savile Savile-Lumley, 2nd baron Savile [1853-1931]; the latter's son, George Halifax Lumley-Savile, 3rd baron Savile [1919-2008], Rufford Abbey; (Savile family sale, Christie, Manson & Woods, London, 18 November 1938, no. 123); Rupert L. Joseph [d. 1959], New York;[1] bequest 1960 to NGA.

Exhibition History
1942
Loan to display with permanent collection, Joslyn Art Museum, Omaha, 1942-1948.
1948
Loan to display with permanent collection, Museum of Fine Arts, Springfield, Massachusetts, 1948-1955.
1981
Jacob van Ruisdael, Mauritshuis, The Hague; Fogg Art Museum, Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1981-1982, no. 54.
1996
Obras Maestras de la National Gallery of Art de Washington, Museo Nacional de Antropología, Mexico City, 1996-1997, unnumbered catalogue, color repro.
Bibliography
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):256, no. 819.
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):xxxxx, no. 819.
1928
Rosenberg, Jakob. Jacob van Ruisdael. Berlin, 1928: 67, no. 520.
1964
Gorissen, Friedrich. Conspectus Cliviae. Die klevische Residenz in der Kunst des 17. Jahrhunderts. Kleve, 1964: under no. 62.
1965
Summary Catalogue of European Paintings and Sculpture. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1965: 119.
1967
Dattenberg, Heinrich. Niederrheinansichten holländischer Künstler des 17. Jahrhunderts. Die Kunstdenkmäler des Rheinlands 10. Düsseldorf, 1967: 283, no. 312.
1968
National Gallery of Art. European Paintings and Sculpture, Illustrations. Washington, 1968: 106, no. 676, 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: 294, no. 392, repro.
1981
Schmidt, Winfried. Studien zur Landschaftskunst Jacob van Ruisdaels: Frühwerke und Wanderjahre. Hildesheim, 1981: 75, pl. 22.
1981
Slive, Seymour, and Hans Hoetink. Jacob van Ruisdael. Exh. cat. The Royal Cabinet of Paintings Mauritshuis, The Hague; The Fogg Art Museum, Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts. New York, 1981: no. 54.
1984
Walker, John. National Gallery of Art, Washington. Rev. ed. New York, 1984: 295, no. 385, color repro.
1985
National Gallery of Art. European Paintings: An Illustrated Catalogue. Washington, 1985: 364, repro.
1991
Walford, E. John. Jacob van Ruisdael and the Perception of Landscape. New Haven, 1991: 167-168, repro.
1995
Wheelock, Arthur K., Jr. Dutch Paintings of the Seventeenth Century. The Collections of the National Gallery of Art Systematic Catalogue. Washington, 1995: 345-348, color repro. 347.
1996
Ortiz Hernán, Elena, and Octavio Hernández R. Obras maestras de la National Gallery of Art. Translated by Bertha Ruiz de la Concha. Exh. cat. Museo Nacional de Antropología, Mexico City, 1996: 72-73, repro.
2001
Slive, Seymour. Jacob van Ruisdael: A Complete Catalogue of his Paintings, Drawings and Etchings. New Haven, 2001: 417, no. 588.
Technical Summary

The support, a fine-weight, plain-weave fabric, has been lined with the damaged, yet original, tacking margins retained. A thin, smooth white ground layer was applied overall followed by a warm light brown imprimatura under the foreground and trees. Infrared reflectography[1] shows a brush-applied underdrawing that notes sketchily the position of the fountain and some trees and shrubs. An oval-shaped pentimento is found between the house and fountain, and the roofline of the house was originally higher.

Paint was applied in thin layers with scumbles and glazes. The sky was painted first with reserves left for the foreground and most trees. Scattered small losses exist, mostly confined to the edges, with moderate abrasion found overall, particularly in the sky. The painting was treated in 1993 to consolidate flaking and remove discolored varnish and inpainting.

 

[1] Infrared reflectography was performed with a Hamamatsu c/1000-03 vidicon camera fitted with a lead sulphide tube and a Kodak Wratten 87A filter.

Related IconClass Terms
11R7
scenes symbolizing vanitas
25HH
landscape +picturesque
25HH1
ideal
41A161
country house
41A6
garden
41A651
fountain
46A16
the rich
48B
artist +Gerard van Battem + collaborator of