Imaginary River Landscape, monogrammed and dated 1670, is one of Herman Saftleven's most charming and delicately rendered depictions of this meandering river valley. Here he has harkened back to the worldview landscapes of Pieter Brueghel the Elder, positioning the viewer in an elevated position so that the expansive vista extends to the distant horizon. Saftleven's earthy colors and precisely executed foreground elements gently morph into a more suggestive rendering of faraway pictorial motifs such as walled towns, church towers, and villages along the river, all of which are bathed in atmospheric misty blues. Figures enliven the scene, including travelers on mountain trails and a shepherd guarding his flock. At the landing, a boatman tends to his cargo ship, while others have just set out on the winding waterway. All of these details and color effects can be fully enjoyed because of the painting's excellent condition.
A native of Rotterdam, Herman Saftleven the Younger likely trained with his father before settling in Utrecht in 1632. Saftleven initially painted genre scenes of peasant life, but he soon turned to landscapes, producing close to 120 known ones over the course of his long career. After the end of the hostilities of the Thirty Years' War in 1648, he journeyed along the Rhine River, a trip into the German countryside that inspired many of his finest works: fanciful panoramas of the Rhineland's hilly landscape.
(sale, Phillips, London, 14 March 1977, no. 48). (sale, Hotel Drouot, Paris, 25 March 2016, no. 9); (Galerie Claude Vittet, Paris); purchased October 2016 by NGA.
- Schulz, Wolfgang. Herman Saftleven, 1609-1685: Leben und Werke. Berlin and New York, 1982: 171-172, no. 176, fig. 42.
- Rahusen, Henriette. "Herman Saftleven, Imaginary River Landscape". National Gallery of Art Bulletin 56 (Spring 2017): 32-33, repro.