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.
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
The elegant classicist villa standing beyond the informal, almost wilderness garden in this painting contains architectural elements characteristic of country houses from the period.
The type of house and setting, for example, vaguely resemble those in a scene Ruisdael painted in collaboration with Thomas de Keyser around 1660 that depicts The Arrival of Cornelis de Graeff and Members of His Family at Soesdijk, His Country Estate (National Gallery of Ireland, Dublin; repro. in Seymour Slive, Jacob van Ruisdael: A Complete Catalogue of His Paintings, Drawings, and Etchings [New Haven, 2001], no. 80. The house in the National Gallery’s painting, however, is far more elegant than that at Soesdijk, which, because it is part of a portrait commission, may be considered to be an accurate portrayal.
See W. Kuyper, Dutch Classicist Architecture: A Survey of Dutch Architecture, Gardens and Anglo-Dutch Architectural Relations, from 1625 to 1700 (Delft, 1980), 159, 219, fig. 321.
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.
Norwegian spruce, however, had been used in Dutch gardens at least since the 1640s. Constantijn Huygens, for example, had them at his country estate, Hofwijck, which was built about 1640. (See W. Kuyper, Dutch Classicist Architecture: A Survey of Dutch Architecture, Gardens and Anglo-Dutch Architectural Relations, from 1625 to 1700 [Delft, 1980], 20, 153, fig. 314. The engraving there illustrated was probably made after drawings by Pieter Post and published about 1653.) By the latter decades of the seventeenth century, Norwegian spruce can be found in a number of representations of Dutch gardens. One of the most interesting of these is a print made by I. Moucheron of a bird preserve on a large estate in Heemstede where a number of spruce trees can be seen. This print is included in a bound collection of prints at Dumbarton Oaks called Nederland. I would like to thank Sally Wages for bringing this print to my attention.
Although the form of the pavilion and trick fountains were garden elements that existed by the late seventeenth century,
J. van der Groen, Le jardinier hollandois (Amsterdam, 1669). As gardener for the Prince of Orange, Van der Groen was quite influential in the Dutch Republic. Plate number 10 in his book depicts a comparable fountain in which a copper ball is suspended in the waterspout. Around the base of the fountain in the plate, moreover, waterspouts are shown spurting out of a rocky path. The accompanying text explains how these devices work and how they can be set off to “surprendre les spectateurs.” I would like to thank Sally Wages for bringing this reference to my attention.
Friedrich Gorissen, Conspectus Cliviae, Die klevische Residenz in der Kunst des 17. Jahrhunderts (Kleve, 1964), 102, no. 62, and Heinrich Dattenberg, Niederrheinansichten holländischer Künstler des 17. Jahrhunderts (Düsseldorf, 1967), no. 312, associate this scene and Ruisdael’s related view of a country house and garden in Berlin (fig. 1) with Prince Johan Maurits of Nassau’s Villa Vreugdenberg (Haus Freudenberg) near Kleve. This proposition, however, cannot be supported by any documentary evidence. Since Johan Maurits’ country house burned down in 1669 and the painting dates from the late 1670s, the image could only represent the house after it was rebuilt in 1678, the year before the prince’s death. An engraving of the site, executed about 1685 (Friedrich Gorissen, Conspectus Cliviae, Die klevische Residenz in der Kunst des 17. Jahrhunderts [Kleve, 1964], fig. 68), however, includes neither buildings nor a roofline that can be related to either the villa in the Berlin painting or that in Country House in a Park. Although the gardens surrounding Johan Maurits’ villa contained tiered fountains, Roman ruins, and spruce, those elements were not found together at one site.
These associations with transience are also noted by E. John Walford, Jacob van Ruisdael and the Perception of Landscape (New Haven, 1991), 168.
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
See Seymour Slive, Jacob van Ruisdael: A Complete Catalogue of His Paintings, Drawings, and Etchings (New Haven, 2001), no. 554 (Berlin) and no. 576 (Fisher Gallery).
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.
For staffage by Van Battum see, for example, Seymour Slive, Jacob van Ruisdael (New York, 1981), 154.
Arthur K. Wheelock Jr.
April 24, 2014
lower left: J v Ruisdael (JvR in ligature)
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; bequest 1960 to NGA.
- Loan to display with permanent collection, Joslyn Art Museum, Omaha, 1942-1948.
- Loan to display with permanent collection, Museum of Fine Arts, Springfield, Massachusetts, 1948-1955.
- Jacob van Ruisdael, Mauritshuis, The Hague; Fogg Art Museum, Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1981-1982, no. 54.
- Obras Maestras de la National Gallery of Art de Washington, Museo Nacional de Antropología, Mexico City, 1996-1997, unnumbered catalogue, color repro.
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 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.
 Infrared reflectography was performed with a Hamamatsu c/1000-03 vidicon camera fitted with a lead sulphide tube and a Kodak Wratten 87A filter.
- 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.
- 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.
- Rosenberg, Jakob. Jacob van Ruisdael. Berlin, 1928: 67, no. 520.
- Gorissen, Friedrich. Conspectus Cliviae. Die klevische Residenz in der Kunst des 17. Jahrhunderts. Kleve, 1964: under no. 62.
- Summary Catalogue of European Paintings and Sculpture. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1965: 119.
- Dattenberg, Heinrich. Niederrheinansichten holländischer Künstler des 17. Jahrhunderts. Die Kunstdenkmäler des Rheinlands 10. Düsseldorf, 1967: 283, no. 312.
- National Gallery of Art. European Paintings and Sculpture, Illustrations. Washington, 1968: 106, no. 676, repro.
- National Gallery of Art. European paintings: An Illustrated Summary Catalogue. Washington, 1975: 316, repro.
- Walker, John. National Gallery of Art, Washington. New York, 1975: 294, no. 392, repro.
- Schmidt, Winfried. Studien zur Landschaftskunst Jacob van Ruisdaels: Frühwerke und Wanderjahre. Hildesheim, 1981: 75, pl. 22.
- 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.
- Walker, John. National Gallery of Art, Washington. Rev. ed. New York, 1984: 295, no. 385, color repro.
- National Gallery of Art. European Paintings: An Illustrated Catalogue. Washington, 1985: 364, repro.
- Walford, E. John. Jacob van Ruisdael and the Perception of Landscape. New Haven, 1991: 167-168, repro.
- 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.
- 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.
- Slive, Seymour. Jacob van Ruisdael: A Complete Catalogue of his Paintings, Drawings and Etchings. New Haven, 2001: 417, no. 588.
- scenes symbolizing vanitas
- landscape +picturesque
- country house
- the rich