1628/9 Haarlem– 1682 Amsterdam
Panel, 26 x 37,1 cm
Signed with monogram lower right: JvR
Jacob van Ruisdael is widely regarded as the greatest and most versatile seventeenth-century Dutch landscape painter. His precocious talent showed itself at an early age. The artist was already producing accomplished works in his late teens even before becoming a member of the Haarlem Guild of St. Luke in 1648. Initially he found his landscape subjects in the countryside in the vicinity of Haarlem, but he was soon ready to broaden his artistic vision and extend his range of subject matter.
Around 1650 the young Ruisdael travelled with his friend Nicolaes Berchem (1620-1683) to the border region between The Netherlands and Germany. The excursion took him through the eastern provinces of Gelderland and Overijssel, and across the border into western Westphalia, where he discovered the region’s characteristic steeply wooded hillsides, valleys, and rushing streams, as well as the distinctive local architecture. The experience made a deep and lasting impression on Ruisdael, providing him with a whole range of new ideas and visual material that quickly became absorbed into his repertoire.
The picturesque qualities of the region’s water mills evidently captured Ruisdael’s imagination. After his return home, he painted a series of views featuring water mills as the central motif. In this painting of two water mills Ruisdael has taken a view from upstream. The mill on the left is illuminated in soft sunlight, which picks out the detail in its thatched roof and half-timbered construction, while the shaded mill buildings on the right are largely obscured by trees growing at the water’s edge. A family of ducks ventures forth across the tranquil waters of the millpond. A glint of white glimpsed through the sluice gate hints at the rushing water beyond. At the edge of a corn field couple walking in the mid-distance catches the eye of the viewer, the man’s red jacket providing the only splash of vivid colour in the otherwise richly green and brown landscape.
Only one painting from the series, the Getty Museum’s Two Water Mills with an Open Sluice (Fig.1), of 1653, bears a date, but the others probably originated shortly before 1653 or around the same time. Slive dates the present painting to the early 1650s and compares it with a closely related painting, formerly in the Habich collection, Cassel (Fig.2.). The water mills in both the Habich painting and ours were apparently inspired by those belonging to the manor house at Singraven on the River Dinkel, near Denekamp, a village in the eastern part of the province of Overijssel1.
Ruisdael evidently paid a visit to the picturesque site during his trip to the borderlands. A drawing that is closely related to both paintings is in the Rijksprentenkabinett, Amsterdam (Fig.3.)2. Another view of the same mills taken from downstream is in the National Gallery, in London (Fig.4.).
Ruisdael was the first painter to realise the potential of water mills as the principal subject of a painting. His pupil Meindert Hobbema (1638-1709) later developed the theme, making it one of his main specialities.
1See: Slive, 2001, op. cit., p. 133, cat. no. 112. Cat. no. D7
2See: Slive & Hoetink, 1981, op. cit., p. 79.
Born in Haarlem, Jacob van Ruisdael came from a family of painters. His father, Isaack Jacobsz. van Ruysdael (originally called de Goyer), was a frame-maker, picture dealer and painter, while his uncle, Salomon van Ruysdael, was the celebrated Haarlem landscapist. The exact date of his birth is not known, but in a document of 1661 he is said to be thirty-two years old; however, this may be unreliable since the ages of some other painters mentioned in the same source are incorrect. Jacob was probably a child of his father’s second marriage to Maycken Cornelisdr, which took place on 12 November 1628. The name of his teacher is not recorded, but he may well have taken tuition from both his father and his uncle. His earliest dated works are from 1646, though he did not apparently become a member of the Haarlem Guild of St. Luke until 1648. Around 1650, he travelled to Westphalia near the Dutch-German border, probably in the company of the Italianate landscapist, Nicolaes Berchem, whom Arnold Houbraken described as a “good friend”. By June 1657, Jacob had settled in Amsterdam, where he seems to have lived for the rest of his life, although the identified views in some of his pictures indicate that he also made trips to other parts of Holland. According to Houbraken, he remained a bachelor all his life. In 1667, the artist made two Wills at a time when he appears to have been very ill. He was still living in Amsterdam in January 1682 and probably died there, but was buried in St. Bavo in Haarlem on 14 March 1682.
With P. & D. Colnaghi, 1927 London
Anonymous sale, Frederik Muller & Cie, Amsterdam, 11 December 1928, lot 24 (Dfl. 10,000)
Ant. W. M. Mensing (1866-1936), Amsterdam
His deceased sale, Frederik Muller & Cie, Amsterdam, 15 November 1938, lot 88; acquired by
D. A. Hoogendijk, Amsterdam, from whom acquired by
Alois Miedl, Gallery Jacques Goudstikker, Amsterdam, 1940 until 1943 (inv. no. 5994) with
C. Berk, Burg Neu-Hemmerich, Frechen, Cologne with
Alfred Brod Gallery, London, where acquired by the previous owner in 1963
Private collection, UK, until 2018
J. Rosenberg, Jacob van Ruisdael, Berlin, 1928, p. 78, no. 102a.
N. MacLaren, National Gallery Catalogues: The Dutch School, London, 1960, pp. 359-360, note 11.
J. Giltay, “De tekeningen van Jacob van Ruisdael”, Oud Holland, 94, 1980, p. 174, nos. 2 and 3, note 74.
S. Slive & H. R. Hoetink, Jacob van Ruisdael, exhib. cat., Mauritshuis, The Hague and The Fogg Art Museum, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1981, p. 79 .
N. MacLaren and C. Brown, National Gallery Catalogues: The Dutch School, revised edition, London, 1991, pp. 384-385, under no. 986, note 12.
S. Slive, Jacob van Ruisdael: A Complete Catalogue of His Paintings, Drawings and Etchings, New Haven and London, 2001, no. 111, as datable to the early 1650s.
Fig.1 Jacob van Ruisdael, Two Water Mills with an open Sluice, 1653
Oil on canvas, 66 x 84.5 cm, signed
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles
Fig. 3 Jacob van Ruisdael, Dubbele watermolen
Pensel in grijs, 148 x 194mm
Fig.4 Jacob van Ruisdael, Two Water Mills and an open Sluise at Singraven,
Oil on canvas, 87,3 x 111,5 cm, signed
National Gallery, London