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Arthur K. Wheelock Jr., “Aert van der Neer/Moonlit Landscape with Bridge/probably 1648/1650,” Dutch Paintings of the Seventeenth Century, NGA Online Editions, (accessed September 29, 2022).

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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.[1] Likewise, the elegant couple on the right stands before a stone gate similar to those that served as entrances to country houses, particularly those situated along the river Vecht. The setting, thus, is a composite of various aspects of city and country life that Van der Neer has brought into a harmonious whole.

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.[2] This painting exhibits a number of remarkable techniques that Van der Neer developed to convey his atmospheric effects. He suggested the translucency of the clouds, for example, by allowing the reddish ocher imprimatura covering the walnut panel to remain visible through thinly applied bluish gray paint. In the foreground, he articulated a number of objects with light contours, sometimes highlighted with paint applied with a brush and sometimes by scratching the wet paint with an instrument to reveal the ground layer.[3]

Interest in moonlit landscapes in the Netherlands can be traced to engravings made by Hendrik Goudt (1585–1648) after paintings by Adam Elsheimer (1578–1610) in the second decade of the seventeenth century. One of the few Dutch painters to venture into this new domain was Rafael Govertsz Camphuysen (1597/1598–1657).[4] That Camphuysen’s early influence encouraged Van der Neer to develop this genre of painting, however, seems unlikely. Virtually nothing is known of Van der Neer’s artistic contacts during the 1630s and 1640s except that Camphuysen was a witness at the baptism of his daughter in Amsterdam in 1642.[5] Nevertheless, because Van der Neer’s scenes appear to be based on excursions he made in and around Amsterdam, it seems that he developed his style rather independently. Only Peter Paul Rubens (1577–1640) explored the transformation of a landscape through light as profoundly as did Van der Neer. If Van der Neer was in fact familiar with Rubens’s landscapes from the 1630s, either firsthand or through the prints of engravers such as Schelte Adams Bolswert (c. 1586–1659), he succeeded in adapting the Flemish master’s atmospheric effects to a Dutch landscape setting.

Arthur K. Wheelock Jr.

April 4, 2018


lower right, in ligature: AvdN



Jacob Frederikszn van Beek, Amsterdam; (his sale, Jeronimo De Vries et al., Amsterdam, 2 June 1828, no. 49); Engelberts.[1] F. Tielens, Brussels. J. Walter, London.[2] 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.[3] (Galerie Sanct Lucas, Vienna), by 1989; purchased 29 January 1990 by NGA.

Exhibition History
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.
Technical Summary

The support is a single piece of thin, horizontally grained walnut cut across the entire tree trunk width.[1] 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.


[1] Wood analysis was performed by the NGA Scientific Research department (see report dated February 25, 1992, in NGA Conservation files).

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.
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