In this small work, so evocative of the windswept coastal landscape near Haarlem, Pieter Molijn has captured the essence of early seventeenth-century landscape painting. His bold and fluid brushstrokes create a vigorous and animated scene. The painting appears to be a spontaneous record of a view that the artist happened upon while traveling along a sandy road near the Dutch coast. Molijn situates the viewer below the horizon, facing a road with neither beginning nor end; in this way, the vista remains limited, and the sky becomes an active element in the scene.
Molijn was one of the most innovative landscape artists of his day, ushering in the tonal phase of Dutch landscape painting by limiting his range of motifs and color tonalities. He also combined an unprecedented sense of realism with powerful diagonal compositions and strong effects of light and dark. Molijn’s distinctive style influenced the work of his Haarlem contemporary Salomon van Ruysdael (1600/1603–1670) and of Jan van Goyen (1596–1656).
This small work, so evocative of the windswept terrain near the dunes along the Dutch coast, captures the essence of early seventeenth-century landscape painting. With free and fluid strokes, Molijn has created a vigorous and animated scene, where sea breezes, which have molded the craggy form of the dead, vine-covered oak tree and the wood slats of the gate and fence, rustle the leaves of trees surrounding the farm. The painting does not have a composed feeling, but appears as though it were a view along a sandy road that we suddenly happened upon. From the low vantage point, nature rather than man takes precedence. The road, gate, and craggy tree are boldly depicted, while the only figures, a shepherd returning with his sheep just over the rise and a man behind the fence, are small and insignificant.
Two small, out-of-scale figures in front of the fence have been added by a later hand; they are in the shadows so they do not detract very much from the overall impact of the painting.
Landscape with Open Gate is not signed, but the attribution to Pieter Molijn is without doubt. Comparisons with his painting Dune Landscape with Trees and Wagon, signed and dated 1626 (Herzog Anton Ulrich-Museum, Braunschweig),
See inventory no. 338, from the Herzog Anton Ulrich-Museum, Braunschweig.
For a discussion of this drawing, see Marijn Schapelhouman and Peter Schatborn, Land and Water: Dutch Drawings from the 17th Century in the Rijksmuseum Print Room (Zwolle, 1987), 26, where a date from “the second half of the twenties” is postulated.
Molijn was one of the most adventurous landscape artists of his day, one who instilled his scenes with an unprecedented sense of realism. Not only did he limit his range of motifs and color tonalities, he also organized his compositions with powerful diagonal accents that were reinforced through strong effects of light and dark. Through these means he gave his paintings both a specific visual focus and a unifying path into the distance. By 1626 his bold and vigorous brushwork had already attracted the attention of
Seymour Slive, Frans Hals, 3 vols. (London, 1970–1974) 3:25–26, no. 42, where the attribution of the landscape to Molijn is first made.
Samuel Ampzing, Beschrijvinge ende lof der stad Haerlem in Holland (Haarlem, 1628), 372: “En van het stout pinzeel en hand’ling van Molijn, die in de schilder-konst twee dapp’re meesters zijn” (“And of the bold brush and handling of Molijn, that—in the art of painting—are two accomplished masters”; translation by Henriette de Bruyn Kops). That Molijn would have been so well regarded by 1628 is surprising, for no paintings exist that are dated before 1625. For an assessment of Molijn’s artistic evolution, see Eva Jeney Allen, “The Life and Art of Pieter Molyn,” PhD diss. (University of Maryland, 1987).
Molijn’s distinctive style of landscape painting owed much to the drawings and etchings of three artists who already had been active in Haarlem at the time he joined the Saint Luke’s Guild in 1616:
See, for example, Bloemaert’s drawing A Shepherd with Sheep near a Dead Tree (Rijksprentenkabinet, Amsterdam, inv. no. 11898 A 3740), illustrated in Marijn Schapelhouman and Peter Schatborn, Land and Water: Dutch Drawings from the 17th Century in the Rijksmuseum Print Room (Zwolle, 1987), 3.
For a rather controversial assessment of the moralizing character of Dutch landscapes see Josua Bruyn, “Toward a Scriptural Reading of Seventeenth-Century Dutch Landscape Paintings,” in Peter C. Sutton et al., Masters of Seventeenth-Century Dutch Landscape Painting (Boston, 1987), 84–92.
Roemer Visscher, Zinne-poppen (Amsterdam, 1614), 11, as discussed in Peter C. Sutton et al., Masters of Seventeenth-Century Dutch Landscape Painting (Boston, 1987), 15.
Arthur K. Wheelock Jr.
April 24, 2014
Private collection, France; (art dealer, Lille); purchased 1980 by Arthur K. and Susan H. Wheelock, Washington, D.C.; acquired 1986 by gift and partial purchase by NGA.
- Haarlem: The Seventeenth Century, The Jane Voorhees Zimmerli Art Museum, Rutgers University, New Brunswick, New Jersey, 1983, no. 85, as Attributed to Pieter de Molyn.
- Rembrandt and the Golden Age: Dutch Paintings from the National Gallery of Art, The Chrysler Museum of Art, Norfolk, 1997, unnumbered brochure.
- A Collector's Cabinet, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., 1998, no. 39.
- A Moral Compass: Seventeenth and Eighteenth Century Painting in the Netherlands, Grand Rapids Art Museum, 1999, no. 17, repro.
- Hofrichter, Frima Fox. Haarlem: The Seventeenth Century. New Brunswick, 1983: no. 85, 108-109.
- Allen, Eva J. "The Life and Art of Pieter Molyn." Ph.D. dissertation, University of Maryland, College Park, 1987: 133, 258, 346 fig. 145.
- Southgate, M. Therese, M.D., ed. "The Cover: Pieter Molijn, Landscape with Open Gate." Journal of the American Medical Association. 260, no. 12 (23 September 1988): 1662, cover repro.
- Wheelock, Arthur K., Jr. Dutch Paintings of the Seventeenth Century. The Collections of the National Gallery of Art Systematic Catalogue. Washington, 1995: 178-181, color repro. 179.
- Wheelock, Arthur K., Jr. A Collector's Cabinet. Exh. cat. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1998: 67, no. 39.
- Luttikhuizen, Henry M. "Pieter Molijn: Landscape with an Open Gate." In A Moral Compass: Seventeenth and Eighteenth Century Painting in the Netherlands. Edited by Arthur K. Wheelock, Jr., Lawrence O. Goedde, Mariët Westermann, and Henry M. Luttikhuizen. Exh. cat. Grand Rapids Art Museum. New York, 1999: 76-77, no. 17, color repro.
- Southgate, M. Therese. The Art of JAMA II: Covers and Essays from The Journal of the American Medical Association. Chicago, 2001: 34-35, 208, color repro.
- Allen, Eva J. A Vision of Nature: The Landscapes of Philip Koch: Retrospective, 1971-2004. Exh. cat. University of Maryland University College, Adelphi, 2004: 12-13, fig. 3.
The support, a single, horizontally grained oak board, has several minor cracks parallel to the grain. Dendrochronology has determined a felling date between 1628 and 1634, with the most plausible date being 1630. The back is wax-coated and the edges beveled. The double ground consists of a lower white layer and an upper light brown layer. The smooth, thin ground masks the wood grain and is extensively incorporated into the design. The fluid, brush-applied strokes of the extensive underdrawing, which is more agitated and oblique than the final composition, are readily visible to the naked eye as well as with infrared reflectography at 1.5 – 1.8 microns. The two small foreground figures, which do not appear in the underdrawing, seem to be later additions.
Translucent paint is applied thinly and rapidly, with slightly impasted highlights and stiff brushwork in the sky. Frequently the ground is merely glazed over lightly or highlights applied to exposed underdrawing lines, as in a quickly executed sketch. Discolored inpainting covers scattered small losses and reinforces lines in the gate and the figures to its right. Remnants of aged varnishes indicate selective cleaning in the past. The painting has not been treated since its acquisition.
 Dendrochronology was performed by Dr. Peter Klein, Universität Hamburg (see report dated January 7, 1987, in NGA curatorial files).
 Infrared reflectography was performed using a Santa Barbara Focal plane array InSb camera fitted with an H astronomy filter.
Related IconClass Terms
- scenes symbolizing vanitas
- tree +used symbolically
- farm in landscape
- historical person +Samuel Ampzing + author critic