Cottages and figures in the dunes


Pieter MOLYN

London 1595 – 1661 Haarlem

Cottages and figures in the dunes

Black chalk, brush in gray-brown ink; black chalk framing lines with addition of brown ink to lower border.

191 x 276 mm (7-1/2 x 10-7/8 in)

WATERMARK: fool’s cap with five bells,

similar to Heawood no. 1922 (dated 1651). (R20)

CHAIN LINES: horizontal, 23-25 mm.
INSCRIPTIONS: signed and dated PMolyn/ 1659 (PM in monogram) at upper left (black chalk); verso, at lower right 304 and Molyn (pencil).
PROVENANCE: Paul Mantz, his sale, Paris, Chevallier, 10 May 1895, lot 145.

E. Warneck, her sale, Paris, Chevallier, 10 May 1905, lot 202b.

Sale, Amsterdam, Sotheby Mak van Waay, 18 November 1980, lot 100.

C. G. Boerner, Düsseldorf, 1981.

Ars Libri, Ltd., Boston, 1985.

Acquired 1985.

LITERATURE: Beck 1998, pp. 160-161, no. 333 (illus.).
EXHIBITIONS: Cat. Düsseldorf 1981, no. 21.

Robinson, Franklin W. and Peck, Sheldon. Fresh Woods and Pastures New: Seventeenth-Century Dutch Landscape Drawings from the Peck Collection. Chapel Hill/ Ithaca/ Worcester. 1999-2001. Published catalogue.

In the late 1640s and 1650s, the conception of nature as friend to human beings and their activities—so apparent in the previous drawing, by Molyn in 1634—changed radically;  this occurred largely under the influence of Allart van Everdingen, who was Molyn’s pupil, and Jacob van Ruisdael.  For these artists, man is overwhelmed by nature, dwarfed by towering cliffs and fir trees, crashing waterfalls, and stormy skies;  people become lone travelers in forests littered with blasted tree trunks and boulders challenging the elements.

Molyn made hundreds of landscape drawings that survive;  they were surely intended to be sold, since, as here, they often have borders by the artist and are clearly signed and dated.  What is fascinating about Molyn’s drawings of the late 1650s is not only that they are so much better in quality than his paintings at that point but also that they are a kind of intermediary between these two great streams of Dutch landscape, the van Goyen generation and the Ruisdael generation.

In this masterful drawing of 1659, for example, the composition swirls around the central farmhouse and leads our eye into the dunes in the far right;  the farmhouse huddles close to the ground, and the trees bend with the weight of the wind.  Although Molyn’s landscape drawings are sometimes more obviously bleak and forbidding, with Nordic cliffs and fir trees, the contrast between the oasis of human habitation and the emptiness of the surrounding countryside, with a few isolated figures, is more touching and understated here.  Similar scenes by Molyn are in the Morgan Library, Fitzwilliam Museum, Besançon, and the Teyler Museum, Haarlem.  Virtually the same farmhouse is depicted in a drawing dated 1655 (Prestel, Frankfurt, November 12-13, 1918, no. 185).