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Arthur K. Wheelock Jr., “Jacob van Ruisdael/Landscape/c. 1670,” Dutch Paintings of the Seventeenth Century, NGA Online Editions, (accessed May 18, 2024).

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Thu Apr 24 00:00:00 EDT 2014 Version
Sun Jan 01 00:00:00 EST 1995 Version

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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.

In this landscape, a waterfall transforms the gentle flow of a small river into a turbulent stream that rushes toward a wooden bridge. A mother and child, accompanied by their dog, cross the bridge toward a path into a densely forested, somewhat hilly terrain. Three large oak trees—one dead, one withering, and one sturdy specimen—dominate the center of the composition. The juxtaposition of dead and broken trees with a fast-flowing stream in a rocky landscape is likely an allegorical reference to the transience of life. Ruisdael often composed his scenes so as to limit the viewer's easy access into the landscape, thereby increasing the tension in his art. This painting offers a good example of that principle: The opposite shore can be reached only by way of the bridge, but the juncture of the bridge and the near shore is inaccessible to the viewer as it occurs outside of the picture.


In this landscape Ruisdael has depicted a view across a small waterfall that transforms a smoothly flowing river into a turbulent stream. As the water rushes toward the lower left foreground it passes under a wooden bridge that is traversed by a mother and child and their dog. The path they follow enters a densely forested, somewhat hilly terrain, passing by three large oak trees that dominate the center of the composition. One of these trees is almost dead, and another has a dramatically broken branch hanging precariously over the falls.

Ruisdael often composed his scenes to limit the viewer’s easy access into the landscape. In this painting the land across the river can be reached only by way of the bridge, but the juncture of the bridge and the near shore does not occur within the picture. The effect is to make the landscape unapproachable and forbidding, a mood intensified by the dense forest on the far shore and the steel gray clouds overhead. As in Ruisdael’s painting The Jewish Cemetery [fig. 1] and his Forest Scene, the juxtaposition of dead and broken trees with a stream flowing turbulently through a rocky landscape is probably an allegorical reference to the transience of life.[1]

Despite Ruisdael’s compositional schema and the presence of these allusions to metaphysical elements, the mood of the painting is less ominous than in comparable scenes. In large part the difference is one of scale. Not only is the painting relatively small, but also the forms themselves are not as massive and overpowering as in, for example, the Forest Scene. The landscape elements, moreover, are delicately painted. The branches of the trees are not formed with the contorted rhythms of those in Ruisdael’s paintings from the early part of his career. Nuances of light on the leaves and branches of the trees are softly indicated with deft touches of the brush. These qualities, consistent with those of Ruisdael’s later period, suggest that he probably executed this work around 1670, when he turned from the turbulent, vertical waterfall scenes of the preceding decade to more peaceful compositions in a horizontal format.

Ruisdael often adapted and modified motifs from one work to another. A landscape with a similar waterfall occurs in a painting of almost identical dimensions, also dated around 1670, that was formerly in a private collection in Oklahoma City.[2] The bridge is of a type found often in his works, for example, in his landscapes in the Frick Collection, New York, and the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, Williamstown, Massachusetts.[3] The figure group on the bridge also appears in a different setting in his Wooded and Hilly Landscape in the Cleveland Museum of Art.[4]

Arthur K. Wheelock Jr.

April 24, 2014


lower center on rock to left: J v Ruisdael (JvR in ligature)



Baron Etienne Martin de Beurnonville [1789-1876], château de la Chapelle, Labbeville, Val d'Oise; (his estate sale, by Pillet, Paris, 9-14 and 16 May 1881[12 May], no. 453); (Charles Sedelmeyer, Paris). Prince Johann II of Liechtenstein [1840-1929], Vienna and later Vaduz, by 1896;[1] (Frederick Mont, New York); purchased 18 October 1951 by the Samuel H. Kress Foundation, New York;[2] gift 1961 to NGA.

Exhibition History

Meisterwerke aus den Sammlungen des Fürsten von Liechtenstein, Kunstmuseum, Lucerne, 1948, no. 175.
Rembrandt and the Golden Age: Dutch Paintings from the National Gallery of Art, The Chrysler Museum of Art, Norfolk, 1997, unnumbered brochure.
Masterpieces from the National Gallery of Art, Washington, Kyoto Municipal Museum of Art; Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum, 1999, no. 82, repro.

Technical Summary

The picture support is a moderate-weight fabric from which all tacking margins have been removed in the process of lining. The surface of the fabric was prepared to receive paint with a thin, cream-colored ground over which a grayish brown imprimatura, sparsely pigmented and transparent, was laid. The landscape is modeled with paint applied in moderately thick layers, with slight impasto.

The painting was treated in 2005 to remove discolored varnish and inpainting. The treatment revealed a substantial vertical loss in the sky to the right of the large cloud formation and a significant amount of abrasion surrounding the loss and throughout the sky.


Bode, Wilhem von. Die Fürstlich Liechtenstein'sche Galerie in Wien. Vienna, 1896: 99.
Suida, Wilhelm. Die Gemäldegalerie der K. K. Akademie d. Bildenden Kunst: Die Sammlungen Liechtenstein, Czernin, Harrach und Schönborn-Buchheim. Moderner Cicerone 2. Stuttgart, Berlin, and Leipzig, 1904: 116.
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):94, no. 295, 129, no. 407.
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):89, no. 295.
Höss, Karl. Fürst Johann II. von Liechtenstein und die bildende Kunst. Vienna, 1908: 58, I.14, repro.
Preyer, David C. The Art of the Vienna Galleries. The Art Galleries of Europe. Boston, 1911: 247-248.
Kronfeld, Adolf. Führer durch die Fürstlich-Liechtensteinsche Gemäldegalerie in Wien. Vienna, 1927: 184-185, no. 911.
Rosenberg, Jakob. Jacob van Ruisdael. Berlin, 1928: 87, no. 252.
Strohmer, Erich V. Die Gemäldegalerie des Fürsten Liechtenstein in Wien. Vienna, 1943: 101, pl. 69.
Meisterwerke aus den Sammlungen des Fürsten von Liechtenstein. Exh. cat. Kunstmuseum, Lucerne, 1948: no. 175.
Paintings and Sculpture from the Samuel H. Kress Collection. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1959: 322, repro.
Gorissen, Friedrich. Conspectus Cliviae. Die klevische Residenz in der Kunst des 17. Jahrhunderts. Kleve, 1964: no. 62.
Summary Catalogue of European Paintings and Sculpture. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1965: 119.
National Gallery of Art. European Paintings and Sculpture, Illustrations. Washington, 1968: 106, repro.
National Gallery of Art. European paintings: An Illustrated Summary Catalogue. Washington, 1975: 316, repro.
Eisler, Colin. Paintings from the Samuel H. Kress Collection: European Schools Excluding Italian. Oxford, 1977: 146-147, fig. 132, as Landscape with a Little Waterfall.
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: 151.
Cleveland Museum of Art. European Paintings of the 16th, 17th, and 18th Centuries. Catalog of Paintings 3. Cleveland, 1982: 265.
National Gallery of Art. European Paintings: An Illustrated Catalogue. Washington, 1985: 364, repro.
Sutton, Peter C. A Guide to Dutch Art in America. Grand Rapids and Kampen, 1986: 306.
Wheelock, Arthur K., Jr. Dutch Paintings of the Seventeenth Century. The Collections of the National Gallery of Art Systematic Catalogue. Washington, 1995: 343-345, color repro. 344.
Shimada, Norio, and Haruko Ota. Masterpieces from the National Gallery of Art, Washington. Exh. cat. Kyoto Municipal Museum of Art; Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum. Tokyo, 1999: no. 82, repro.
Slive, Seymour. Jacob van Ruisdael: A Complete Catalogue of his Paintings, Drawings and Etchings. New Haven, 2001: 244, no. 296, 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: 14, 16, fig. 7.
Keyes, George S., et al. Masters of Dutch Painting: The Detroit Institute of Arts. London, 2004: 204, fig. 1.
Wheelock, Arthur K., Jr. "In Pursuit of Masterpieces: The National Gallery of Art's Acquisitions from The Prince of Liecthenstein." Artibus et historiae 42, no. 83 (2021): 317, 320, color fig. 8, 329 n. 15.

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scenes symbolizing vanitas
landscape with bridge
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