Ruysdael - Encyclopedia

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RUYSDAEL (or [[Ruisdaal), Jacob Van]] (c. 1628-1682), the most celebrated of the Dutch landscapists, was born at Haarlem. He appears to have studied under his father Izaak Ruysdael, a landscape painter, though other authorities make him the pupil of Berghem and of Albert van Everdingen. The earliest date that appears on his paintings and etchings is 1645. Three years later he was admitted a member of the gild of St Luke in Haarlem; in 1659 he obtained the freedom of the city of Amsterdam, and in 1668 his name appears there as a witness to the marriage of Hobbema. During his lifetime his works were little appreciated, and he seems to have suffered from poverty. In 1681 the sect of the Mennonites, with whom he was connected, petitioned the council of Haarlem for his admission into the almshouse of the town, and there the artist died on the 14th of March 1682.

The works of Ruysdael may be studied in the Louvre and the National Gallery, London, and in the collections at the Hague, Amsterdam, Berlin, and Dresden. His favourite subjects are simple woodland scenes, similar to those of Everdingen and Hobbema. He is especially noted as a painter of trees, and his rendering of foliage, particularly of oak leafage, is characterized by the greatest spirit and precision. His views of distant cities, such as that of Haarlem in the possession of the marquess of Bute, and that of Katwijk in the Glasgow Corporation Galleries, clearly indicate the influence of Rembrandt. He frequently paints coast-scenes and sea-pieces, but it is in his rendering of lonely forest glades that we find him at his best. The subjects of certain of his mountain scenes seem to be taken from Norway, and have led to the supposition that he had travelled in that country. We have, however, no record of such a journey, and the works in question are probably merely adaptations from the landscapes of Van Everdingen, whose manner he copied at one period. Only a single architectural subject from his brush is known - an admirable interior of the New Church, Amsterdam, in the possession of the marquess of Bute. The prevailing hue of his landscapes is a full rich green, which, however, has darkened with time, while a clear grey tone is characteristic of his seapieces. The art of Ruysdael, while it shows little of the scientific knowledge of later landscapists, is sensitive and poetic in sentiment, and direct and skilful in technique. Figures are sparingly introduced into his compositions, and such as occur are believed to be from the pencils of Adrian Vandevelde, Philip Wouwerman, and Jan Lingelbach.

Unlike the other great Dutch landscape painters, Ruysdael did not aim at a pictorial record of particular scenes, but he carefully thought out and arranged his compositions, introducing into them an infinite variety of subtle contrasts in the formation of the clouds, the plants and tree forms, and the play of light. He particularly excels in the painting of cloudy skies which are spanned dome-like over the landscape, and determine the light and shade of the objects.

Characteristic of his early period, from about 1646 to 1653, is the choice of very simple motifs and the careful and laborious study of the details of nature. The time between his departure from Haarlem and his settling in Amsterdam may have been spent in travelling and helped him to gain a broader view of nature and to widen the horizon of his art. Mr Otto Beit owns a magnificent view of the "Castle of Bentheim," dated 1654, from which it may be concluded that his wanderings extended to Germany. In his last period, from about 1675 onwards, he shows a tendency towards overcrowded compositions, and affects a darker tonality, which may partly be due to the use of thin paint on a dark ground. Towards the end, in his leaning towards the romantic mood, he preferred to draw his inspiration from other masters, instead of going to nature direct, his favourite subjects being rushing torrents and waterfalls, and ruined castles on mountain crests, which are frequently borrowed from the Swiss views by Roghman.

Ruysdael etched a few plates, which were reproduced by Amand Durand in 1878, with text by Georges Duplessis. The "Cornfield" and the "Travellers" are characterized by M. Duplessis as prints of a high order which may be regarded as the most significant expressions of landscape art in the Low Countries.

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