Meindert Hobbema studied under the noted landscape artist Jacob van Ruisdael, and quite a few of his compositions evolved from the work of his erstwhile master. Hobbema approached nature in a straightforward manner, depicting picturesque, rural scenery enlivened by the presence of peasants or hunters. He often reused favorite motifs such as old watermills, thatch-roofed cottages, and embanked dikes, rearranging them into new compositions. Hobbema’s rolling clouds allow patches of sunshine to illuminate the rutted roads or small streams that lead back into rustic woods. All six of the National Gallery’s canvases by Hobbema share these characteristics.
Signed and dated 1663, A Wooded Landscape is one of Hobbema’s most harmonious compositions. Sunlight breaks through the billowing clouds, but the dense summer foliage provides cooling shade to the people on the road who have stopped to converse and to the angler lounging by the pond. Hobbema draws the viewer back into the forest with pools of light that accent distant foliage and tree trunks. A chalk and ink drawing by Hobbema of this wooded glade seems to indicate that the painting represents an actual location.
In the 1830s this painting was a prized possession of a benevolent Irish landowner, Charles Cobbe. According to his daughter, Cobbe sold the Hobbema and another painting in 1839 in order to make urgent repairs to tenants’ cottages on the estate. His daughter remembered the tears in her father’s eyes when the paintings were removed from the wall, but, she noted, "the sacrifice was completed, and eighty good stone and slate ‘Hobbema Cottages,’ as we called them, soon rose all over Glenasmoil." Hobbema would have been pleased to know that the sale of his painting created new housing for so many families.
In this idyllic view of the world, the season is summer, the foliage of the trees is dense and lush, sunlight breaks through the billowing clouds in soft pools of light to give warmth to the day, and men and women wander along paths, stopping to converse, or sit idly by a pool of water to fish. Hobbema’s view of A Wooded Landscape, one of his most harmonious compositions, has been highly praised since Smith first published it in 1835, when it was in the collection of Charles Cobbe.
Smith’s 1835 entry for the painting consisted of only a brief description, but in his 1842 supplement he described the work in great detail and praised it lavishly, saying: “This brilliant epitome of Nature is justly entitled to the highest commendations, and is in truth an example of . . . rare occurrence.” (John Smith, A Catalogue Raisonné of the Works of the Most Eminent Dutch, Flemish and French Painters, 9 vols. [London, 1829–1842], 9:725).
Gustav Friedrich Waagen, Treasures of Art in Great Britain: Being an Account of the Chief Collection of Paintings, Drawings, Sculptures, and Illuminated Mss., 3 vols. (London 1854–1857), 2:203.
Signed and dated 1663, this painting is among the first of Hobbema’s fully mature works. Here he has freed himself from the overt dependence on
Wolfgang Stechow, “The Early Years of Hobbema,” Arts Quarterly 22 (Spring 1959): 9, 15.
When Smith published the painting in 1835, he indicated that it was a companion piece to the masterful landscape of the same dimensions and date now in the National Gallery of Ireland, Dublin, and formerly in the collection of Sir Alfred Beit
Gregory Rubinstein has pointed out verbally that it is nonetheless possible that both paintings could have been together in Ireland in the early 1830s. Littleton was appointed chief secretary to the lord lieutenant of Ireland in 1833, and must therefore have spent a considerable amount of time there during this period. When it was in the Cobbe Collection, the Hobbema was paired with a landscape by
A case in point is The Travelers and The Old Oak (discussed in the entry on The Travelers), which are apparently companion pieces, but whose commonality, other than dimensions and date, is essentially that the compositions were both derived from works by Jacob van Ruisdael.
The painting was clearly greatly appreciated by its owners, to judge by a fascinating account of the circumstances of its sale by Charles Cobbe in 1839, published by his daughter Frances Power Cobbe in 1894. She wrote as follows: “Though often hard pressed to carry out with a very moderate income all his projects of improvements, [my father] was never in debt. One by one he rebuilt or re-roofed almost every cottage on his estate, making what had been little better than pig-styes, fit for human habitation; and when he found that his annual rents could never suffice to do all that was required in this way for his tenants in his mountain property, he induced my eldest brother, then just of age, to join with him in selling two of the pictures which were the heirlooms of the family and the pride of the house, a Gaspar Poussin and a Hobbema, which last now adorns the walls of Dorchester House. I remember as a child seeing the tears in his eyes as this beautiful painting was taken out of the room in which it had been like a perpetual ray of sunshine. But the sacrifice was completed, and eighty good stone and slate ‘Hobbema Cottages,’ as we called them, soon rose all over Glenasmoil. Be it noted by those who deny every merit in an Anglo-Irish landlord, that not a farthing was added to the rent of the tenants who profited by this real act of self-denial.”
Frances Power Cobbe, Life of Frances Power Cobbe, 2 vols. (Boston and New York, 1894), 1:23–24. For further information on the “Hobbema Cottages” see Arthur K. Wheelock Jr. and Alec Cobbe, “‘A Better Picture to the Christian Eye’: The Sale of Meindert Hobbema’s Wooded Landscape from Newbridge,” and Charles Sebag-Montefiore, “Collecting in Ireland in the 18th Century: The Historic Cobbe Collection in Context,” in Alastair Laing, ed., Clerics and Connoisseurs: An Irish Art Collection through Three Centuries (London, 2001), no. 24.
Arthur K. Wheelock Jr.
April 24, 2014
lower right: meijndert hobbema / F 1663
Thomas Cobbe [1733-1814], Newbridge House, Donabate, near Dublin, by 1770; gift 1810, with the Cobbe estates and painting collection, to his grandson, Charles Cobbe [1782-1857]; sold 1839 through Michael Gernon to (Thomas Brown, London); sold 4 April 1840 to Robert Stayner Holford, M.P. [1808-1892], Dorchester House, London, and Westonbirt, Gloucestershire; by inheritance to his son, Lieut.-Col. Sir George Lindsay Holford, K.C.V.O. [1860-1926]; purchased 1901 through (Charles Wertheimer, London) by J. Pierpont Morgan [1837-1913], New York; by inheritance to his son, J.P. Morgan, Jr. [1867-1943], New York; consigned February 1935 to (M. Knoedler & Co., New York); sold 13 December 1935 to Andrew W. Mellon, Pittsburgh and Washington, D.C.; deeded 24 June 1937 to The A.W. Mellon Educational and Charitable Trust, Pittsburgh; gift 1937 to NGA.
- British Institution for Promoting the Fine Arts in the United Kingdom, London, 1840, no. 22.
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- The Hudson-Fulton Celebration, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 1909, no. 48, repro.
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- Clerics and Connoisseurs: An Irish Art Collection through Three Centuries, The Iveagh Bequest, Kenwood, London, 2001-2002, no. 24, repro.
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The support is a medium-weight, tightly and plain-woven fabric that has two lining fabrics attached to it. The original tacking margins were opened up and added to the picture plane, expanding the painting by approximately 0.5 cm on all sides. At some point in the painting’s history, this area was inpainted to incorporate it into the picture. The remainder of the original tacking margins as well as those of the first lining fabric have been removed. The stretcher is slightly larger than the painting and as a result the dimensions have been extended up to an additional 1.0 cm on all sides. The warm dark gray ground is a moderately thick layer. The paint was applied in a thin paste with vigorous brushwork. Low impasto is found in foliage and figure highlights. The ground continues onto the expanded areas around the edges, but the paint does not. The X-radiographs show a change in the lower left corner, where the artist painted out a small tree trunk.
A small L-shaped tear occurs in the clouds to the right of center. Small losses are confined to the tear and edges, and abrasion is minimal. There is a pronounced craquelure pattern in the sky, which is slightly disfiguring. Old newspaper on the back of the stretcher is dated December 1916. The painting was probably lined at that time. A second lining fabric was added when the painting was treated in 1941. In 1987, the painting was treated again to remove discolored varnish and inpainting, including the non-original paint that had been added to the opened-up tacking margins.
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