Aert van der Neer initially painted realistic tonal landscapes and winter scenes, but by the late 1640s, he developed his own specialty of nocturnes, or night scenes. These mysteriously dark, moonlit pictures established him as an innovative and important landscape painter. Nevertheless, from about 1659 he took on a second, rather short-lived career as a tavern keeper in Amsterdam. He went bankrupt in 1662 and at the time of his death in 1677 was quite heavily in debt.
Van der Neer used his consummate technical skills to create this nocturne’s radiance by applying multiple layers of translucent and opaque paint. Here, the luminous clouds have parted to reveal a full moon over a tranquil stream. The moonlight reflects off the water that separates the town at left from the village and the country estate with its ornate gate at right. The light glints off window panes, shines upon a fashionable couple in conversation by the gate, and provides safe passage for the people crossing the stone bridge.
This evocative landscape, in which Aert van der Neer has captured the subtle atmospheric effects of the Dutch landscape illuminated by the glow of a moonlit sky, is one of the master’s most compelling night scenes. The light of the full moon, somewhat diffused by the varied cloud formations that enliven the sky, is nevertheless intense enough to create strong reflections in the water of the slowly moving river that skirts the city and on the windows of buildings lining the shore. This light brings the gnarled tree trunks at the left to life and accents the uppermost leaves on the graceful trees that arch over the water. It reveals paths and bridges, picks out the family returning home over the stone bridge with their dog, and highlights the elegant couple standing in the shadows of the trees at the right.
In conceiving this image, Van der Neer was more interested in creating the mood of nature than in recording an actual setting. The large houses to the left are similar to those found in Amsterdam where the artist lived most of his life, but the church adjacent to the dwellings beyond recall those found in smaller cities and towns. The building complex in the background on the opposite shore of the river appears to be the ruins of an ancient small castle or country house surrounded by a high wall of a type traditionally situated in more rural settings.
The edifice does not conform to any recognizable structure. Peter Sutton relates a similar structure in Moonlit View on a River, 1647, to the manor house Kostverloren, which stood along the river Amstel not far from Amsterdam (Peter C. Sutton et al., Masters of Seventeenth-Century Dutch Landscape Painting [Boston, 1987], 381–383, no. 59). It is indeed possible that Kostverloren provided the inspiration for such castle-like forms in the background of some of Van der Neer’s paintings from the late 1640s (see also Moonlit Landscape with Castle, 1646, Israel Museum, Jerusalem, inv. no. 3561-8-55), but if so, he has transformed its appearance so much as to make it unrecognizable.
Although few of Van der Neer’s paintings are dated, broad patterns within his stylistic development suggest that he executed this work near the end of the 1640s. It stands at the culmination of a period when his nocturnal scenes depicted the reflections of a full moon in the quiet waterways of the Dutch countryside.
This dating has been proposed by Fredo Bachmann, Aert van der Neer (Bremen, 1982), 68–73.
A colored priming layer used to establish the tonality of the painting.
The layer or layers used to prepare the support to hold the paint.
For a discussion of Van der Neer’s painting techniques from this period see Manja Zeldenrust, “Aert van der Neer’s Rivierlandschap bij maanlicht opgehelderd,” Bulletin van het Rijksmuseum 31 (1983): 99–104.
Interest in moonlit landscapes in the Netherlands can be traced to engravings made by
For an illustration of one of Camphuysen’s nocturnal scenes, which probably dates from the mid-1640s (Gemäldegalerie, Dresden, no. 1546), see Walther Bernt, Die niederländischen Maler des 17. Jahrhunderts. 800 Künstler mit 1470 Abbildungen, 3rd ed. (Munich, 1969), repro. 222.
For the relationship of Rafael and his brother Govert Dircksz Camphuysen (1623–1672) to the early work of Van der Neer, see Fredo Bachmann, “Die Brüder Rafel und Jochem Camphuysen und ihr Verhältnis zu Aert van der Neer,” Oud-Holland 85 (1970): 243–250, and also Fredo Bachmann, “Die Herkunft der Frühwerke des Aert van der Neer,” Oud-Holland 89 (1975): 213–222. The earliest known dated landscape by Van der Neer is 1635, executed after he had moved to Amsterdam.
Arthur K. Wheelock Jr.
April 24, 2014
lower right in ligature: AvdN
Jacob Frederikszn van Beek, Amsterdam; (his sale, Jeronimo De Vries et al., Amsterdam, 2 June 1828, no. 49); Engelberts. F. Tielens, Brussels. J. Walter, London. Possibly August Thyssen [1842-1926]; his son, Baron Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza [1875-1947), Schloss Rohoncz, Hungary, Amsterdam, and Villa Favorita, Lugano, by at least 1930; by inheritance to his daughter, Gabrielle Thyssen-Bornemisza [1915 or 1917-1999] and her husband, Baron Adolphe Bentinck van Schoonheten [1905-1970], Paris and London. (Galerie Sanct Lucas, Vienna), by 1989; purchased 29 January 1990 by NGA.
- Sammlung Schloss Rohoncz, Neue Pinakothek, Munich, 1930, no. 238.
- Aus der Sammlung Schloss Rohoncz, Kunstmuseum, Bern, 1964, no. 23.
- Loan to display with permanent collection, Kunstmuseum, Düsseldorf, 1974-1984.
- 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: 7(1923):406, no. 347.
- Heinemann-Fleischmann, Rudolf. Sammlung Schloss Rohoncz. 2 vols. Vol. 1: Gemälde. Exh. cat. Neue Pinakothek. Munich, 1930: 1:no. 238.
- Heinemann, Rudolf J. Stiftung Sammlung Schloss Rohoncz. Lugano-Castagnola, 1937: 1: Verzeichnis der Gemälde: 111, no. 300, as Mondscheinlandschaft.
- Bachmann, Fredo. Aert van der Neer. Bremen, 1982: 68, 73, repro. no. 66.
- Herzig, Roman. Gemälde alter Meister. Vienna, 1989: no. 4, color repro.
- National Gallery of Art. 1990 Annual Report. Washington, 1991: 9-10, repro.
- Wheelock, Arthur K., Jr. Dutch Paintings of the Seventeenth Century. The Collections of the National Gallery of Art Systematic Catalogue. Washington, 1995: 182-184, color repro. 183.
- Yapou, Yonna. "The new Dutch Cabinet Galleries in Washington." Apollo: The International Magazine of the Arts 144 (418 December 1996): 20.
- Schulz, Wolfgang. Aert van der Neer. Aetas aurea 18. Doornspijk, 2002: no. 528.
- Hand, John Oliver. National Gallery of Art: Master Paintings from the Collection. Washington and New York, 2004: 196-197, no. 155, color repro.
The support is a single piece of thin, horizontally grained walnut cut across the entire tree trunk width. All sides of the back are beveled, and the panel is slightly bowed. The wood grain is plainly visible through the smooth, extremely thin white ground. The thick fawn-colored imprimatura is incorporated as a mid-tone in the foreground and sky.
The paint was applied in thin layers. Brushwork is prominent in the sky, and stippling was employed in the foliage and lawn. Highlights were sometimes created by the application of light-colored paint, and sometimes by scratching into the dark paint to reveal the lighter imprimatura below. Slight cupping has formed along the wood grain. Judiciously applied inpainting covers scattered small losses and local abrasions. No conservation has been carried out since acquisition.
 Wood analysis was performed by the NGA Scientific Research department (see report dated February 25, 1992, in NGA Conservation files).
Related IconClass Terms
- city view in general
- landscape with tower or castle
- landscape with bridge
- landscape with ruins
- the rich