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Arthur K. Wheelock Jr., “Meindert Hobbema/The Travelers/166[2?],” Dutch Paintings of the Seventeenth Century, NGA Online Editions, (accessed April 15, 2024).

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Apr 24, 2014 Version
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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. The Travelers, one of Hobbema’s largest works, is a close variant of a smaller painting of a watermill by Ruisdael now in the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam.

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.


This wooded landscape view was formerly titled A Watermill because of the picturesque mill in the middle distance on the left. Presumably because many similar watermills exist in Hobbema’s oeuvre, a new title was chosen to emphasize the distinctive staffage figures in this work, the two men on horseback who ride along the winding path in the center of the composition. A third traveler in the lower right rests on a fallen log, while others in the distant right walk toward a church whose steeple rises behind a dense group of trees.

This work, which was first published by Charles J. Nieuwenhuys in 1834, has an intriguing history.[1] The painting and its companion, The Old Oak, 1662 (now in Melbourne, see [fig. 1]), were discovered in 1829 by the president of the fine arts society of Groningen, P. van Arnhem, in the château of the Alberda van Dyksterhuys family, a fifteenth-century manor house situated in Pieterburen near Groningen. Van Arnhem, a collector of old paintings, was judging a local exhibition of new landscape paintings when he recognized that one of the finest works on show bore a great resemblance to paintings by Hobbema. Upon inquiry, he found out that the artist had copied a painting in the collection at château Dyksterhuys. Van Arnhem visited the château and eventually persuaded its owner, Gosen Geurt Alberda van Dyksterhuys, the last member of a family with a long and distinguished history, to sell his two large paintings by Hobbema. Shortly thereafter, however, Gosen Geurt Alberda van Dyksterhuys also received an offer from another “amateur” from Groningen, R. Gockinga. Before any transaction could be completed, Gosen Geurt died. The two interested parties eventually agreed to a joint purchase from the estate of the two paintings, which they then brought to auction in Amsterdam in 1833. At the sale Gockinga bought the present picture outright for himself, while The Old Oak was bought by the dealer Nieuwenhuys.[2] Soon afterward the two Hobbema paintings were reunited in the collection of Colonel Biré in Brussels.

According to Gosen Geurt Alberda van Dyksterhuys, the two pictures represented views from the surroundings of the château, and were painted for the family by Hobbema. While the identical size of these extremely large paintings does suggest that they were commissioned pieces, no evidence exists to substantiate this family tradition. In any event, neither work was painted from nature, for both are clearly based on compositions by Jacob van Ruisdael (Dutch, c. 1628/1629 - 1682). The Old Oak, signed and dated 1662, is derived from Ruisdael’s etching A Forest Marsh with Travelers on a Bank.[3] The National Gallery of Art painting, which is also signed and dated, is a close variant of Ruisdael’s 166[1?] painting of a watermill, now in the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam [fig. 2].[4] In the Washington painting one not only sees a comparable watermill, but also the same large oak tree rising to the left of the path with its roots clinging to the river bank. Although the last digit of the date is obscured and difficult to read, it appears to be 1662.[5] That date is not only consistent with that of the Melbourne painting, it is also justifiable on compositional and stylistic grounds.

Among Hobbema’s other works related to The Travelers, the most similar in composition is an undated painting formerly in the collection of the Toledo Museum of Art, Ohio [fig. 3]. This painting is also Hobbema’s closest adaptation of Ruisdael’s Landscape with Watermill in the Rijksmuseum. With the exception of the staffage figures, Hobbema has here copied all of the compositional elements, including the cut logs strewn on the path by the woodsman. Since The Travelers is a freer adaptation of the Ruisdael composition than is this work, it almost certainly was painted later.

The evolution of this composition for Hobbema does not, however, begin with Ruisdael’s work. At least three other paintings have similar compositions, but with a simpler mill and a differently shaped tree in the foreground.[6] Hobbema certainly painted the former Toledo and the Washington versions, which were influenced by Ruisdael, after he painted the three scenes with the simpler watermill; nevertheless, since one of these latter works is signed and dated 1662,[7] the time frame in which this evolution occurred must have been very narrow. Hobbema and Ruisdael may both have derived their compositions from an actual site, although Hobbema’s earlier watermill compositions may more accurately reflect that site than do Ruisdael’s. Ruisdael often freely altered the character of buildings to give his scenes added drama and grandeur. The changes in Hobbema’s conception of the scene are thus fascinating evidence of the nature of Ruisdael’s influence on his young protégé at this stage of his career.

Despite the relatively old provenance of the two works from the château Dyksterhuys, their attribution to Hobbema was initially called into question. In 1842 Smith wrote that when this painting and its companion appeared in the Amsterdam sale of 1833, they “were then considered by several connoisseurs to be by the hand of some imitator of Hobbema, in which opinion the writer then coincided.” He added, however, “lining and judicious cleaning have since so greatly improved them, that he feels no hesitation in now recording them among the works of the master.”[8]

Although the attribution of the painting to Hobbema has never been doubted in subsequent years, Smith’s initial hesitation is understandable considering that the painting style lacks many of the nuances of touch found in Hobbema’s other works from the early 1660s. Brushstrokes are quite regular, and forms are comparatively simplified, particularly in the reeds in the lower left and the foliage in the bushes on the right. As a result, the painting does not exhibit the warmth and seeming spontaneity of Hobbema’s more characteristic landscape views.

Various explanations can be advanced for the relative dryness of the painting, and, to judge from photographs, its companion. Primary among them is that both works are exceptionally large in scale for Hobbema and are replicas of smaller variants he made of compositions by Ruisdael.[9] These factors may have affected Hobbema’s manner of painting and rendered his style less spontaneous than usual. Although nothing is known of his workshop practices, it is also possible that these paintings were produced in Hobbema’s studio under his direct supervision. The staffage figures, in any event, are by another hand, which is a common occurrence in Hobbema’s paintings. One nineteenth-century reference plausibly suggests that they are by Barent Gael (before 1635–after 1681).[10]

Arthur K. Wheelock Jr.

April 24, 2014


lower right: m .hobbema . f 166[2?]



Gosen Geurt Alberda van Dyksterhuys [d. 1830], Château Dyksterhuys, Province of Groningen, by 1829; R. Gockinga and P. van Arnhem, Groningen, after 1829; (sale, Amsterdam, 5 July 1833, no. 11);[1] R. Gockinga, Groningen. Colonel Biré, Brussels;[2] (sale, Bonnefons de Lavialle, Paris, 25-26 March 1841, no. 2); William Williams Hope [1802-1855], Rushton Hall, Northamptonshire, and Paris;[3] (sale, Christie & Manson, London, 14-16 June 1849, no. 124); purchased by Fuller or perhaps bought in;[4] (William Williams Hope sale, Pouchet, Paris, 11 May 1858, no. 2). William Ward, 1st earl of Dudley [1817-1885, created earl 1860], Witley Court, Worcestershire, by 1871; by inheritance to his son, William Humble Ward, 2nd earl of Dudley [1867-1932], Witley Court; (sale, Christie, Manson & Woods, London, 25 June 1892, no. 9); (P. & D. Colnaghi & Co., London);[5] 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.[6]

Exhibition History

Exhibition of Works by the Old Masters, Royal Academy of Arts, London, 1871, no. 369, as A Landscape: travellers passing through a wood.
Exhibition of Works by the Old Masters, and by Deceased Masters of the British School. Winter Exhibition, Royal Academy of Arts, London, 1894, no. 60, as A Watermill.[1]
Rembrandt and the Golden Age: Dutch Paintings from the National Gallery of Art, The Chrysler Museum of Art, Norfolk, 1997, unnumbered brochure.

Exhibition History Notes

[1] The Royal Academy label, removed from the stretcher during conservation in 1981, is now in NGA curatorial files. The label identifies Colnaghi as the lender. A label from the Art Institute of Chicago shipping room, dated 27 January 1943, was also removed from the stretcher at this time, but neither the Art Institute nor the NGA registrar’s office records this movement.

Technical Summary

The support is a heavy-weight, loosely and plain-woven fabric. It has been lined and the tacking edges have been removed. The current stretcher is slightly larger than the original fabric and as a result, extends the dimensions by approximately 1 centimeter on all sides. The presence of cusping indicates that the size of the original support was not reduced before the painting was lined. The fabric was prepared with a light tan-colored ground. The paint layer is moderately thick and the somewhat pastose paint was applied with free, clearly defined brushmarks. X-radiographs indicate that the two horses were painted on top of the landscape.

Small losses are scattered overall, but more are located in the foreground and around the edges. The sky is abraded, particularly in the dark cloud at top left, while the foreground is well preserved. The rear end and left hind leg of the white horse are discolored, possibly due to abrasion of a dark glaze. Prior to acquisition, two linings had been attached to the support. In 1981 a third lining was added. At that time discolored varnish and old inpainting were removed where possible. Aged insoluble inpainting in the sky, the damaged dark cloud and the rear end and hind leg of the white horse were toned.


Smith, John. A Catalogue Raisonné of the Works of the Most Eminent Dutch, Flemish and French Painters. 9 vols. London, 1829-1842: 9(1842):727, no. 25.
Nieuwenhuys, Charles J. A Review of the Lives and Works of Some of the Most Eminent Painters. London, 1834: 147-149.
Héris, Henri. "Sur la Vie et les Ouvrages de Meindert Hobbema." La Renaissance: Chronique des Arts et de la Littérature 54 (1839): 5-7, repro.
Koppius, P. A. "Meindert Hobbema." Drentsche Volksalmanak (1839): 114–128, repro., as dated 1662.
Jervis-White-Jervis, Lady Marian. Painting and Celebrated Painters, Ancient and Modern. 2 vols. London, 1854: 2:225.
Thoré, Théophile E. J. (William Bürger). "Hobbema." Gazette des Beaux-Arts 4 (October 1859): 34, 36, 38.
Blanc, Charles. "Minderhout Hobbema." In École hollandaise. 2 vols. Histoire des peintres de toutes les écoles 1-2. Paris, 1861: 2:10 (each artist's essay paginated separately).
Scheltema, Pieter. "Meindert Hobbema: Quelques Renseignements sur ses Oeuvres et sa Vie." Gazette des Beaux-Arts 16 (March 1864): 219 n. 3.
Catalogue of Paintings Forming the Collection of P.A.B. Widener, Ashbourne, near Philadelphia. 2 vols. Paris, 1885-1900: 2(1900):no. 212, repro.
Cundall, Frank. The Landscape and Pastoral Painters of Holland: Ruisdael, Hobbema, Cuijp, Potter. Illustrated biographies of the great artists. London, 1891: 157.
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):385-386, no. 94, 387-388, no. 100.
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.
Paintings in the Collection of Joseph Widener at Lynnewood Hall. Intro. by Wilhelm R. Valentiner. Elkins Park, Pennsylvania, 1923: unpaginated, repro.
Rosenberg, Jakob. "Hobbema." Jahrbuch der Preussischen Kunstsammlungen 48, no. 3 (1927): 139-151.
Paintings in the Collection of Joseph Widener at Lynnewood Hall. Intro. by Wilhelm R. Valentiner. Elkins Park, Pennsylvania, 1931: 78, repro.
Roos, Frank J., Jr. An Illustrated Handbook of Art History. New York, 1937: 183, repro.
Broulhiet, Georges. Meindert Hobbema (1638–1709). Paris, 1938: 71, 381, no. 32, repro., as after Ruisdael, dated 1664.
National Gallery of Art. Works of art from the Widener collection. Washington, 1942: 5.
National Gallery of Art. Paintings and Sculpture from the Widener Collection. Washington, 1948 (reprinted 1959): 59, repro.
National Gallery of Art. Paintings and Sculpture from the Widener Collection. Reprint. Washington, DC, 1959: 59, repro.
Stechow, Wolfgang. "The Early Years of Hobbema." Art Quarterly 22 (Spring 1959): 3-18.
National Gallery of Art. Summary Catalogue of European Paintings and Sculpture. Washington, 1965: 68.
National Gallery of Art. European Paintings and Sculpture, Illustrations. Washington, 1968: 60, repro.
National Gallery of Art. European paintings: An Illustrated Summary Catalogue. Washington, 1975: 176, repro.
Schmidt, Winfried. Studien zur Landschaftskunst Jacob van Ruisdaels: Frühwerke und Wanderjahre. Hildesheim, 1981: 156, 198 n.192.
National Gallery of Art. European Paintings: An Illustrated Catalogue. Washington, 1985: 203, repro.
Formsma, Wiebe Jannes, R. A. Luitjens-Dijkveld Stol, and A. Pathuis. De Ommelander Borgen en Steenhuizen. Groninger Historische Reeks 2. 2nd revised ed. Assen, 1987: 35-37, 330-337.
Sutton, Peter C. Masters of 17th-century Dutch landscape painting. Exh. cat. Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam; Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; Philadelphia Museum of Art. Boston, 1987: 350.
Wheelock, Arthur K., Jr. Dutch Paintings of the Seventeenth Century. The Collections of the National Gallery of Art Systematic Catalogue. Washington, 1995: 113-117, color repro. 115.
Chrysler Museum of Art. Rembrandt and the Golden Age: Dutch paintings from the National Gallery of Art. Exh. brochure. Chrysler Museum of Art, Norfolk. Washington, 1997: unnumbered repro.
Slive, Seymour. Jacob van Ruisdael: Windmills and Water Mills. Los Angeles, 2011: 87, 89 fig. 63, 101 n. 71.

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