Oak trees on a rise near a stream

cat26van-ruiJacob van RUISDAEL

Haarlem 1628/29 – 1682 Amsterdam

Oak trees on a rise near a stream

Black chalk, brush in gray ink; brown ink framing lines.

146 x 200 mm (5-3/4 x 7-7/8 in).

WATERMARK: fragment, figure 4 and three rings [suspended from a five-bell fool’s cap], at lower center,

similar to Ash and Fletcher 1998, variant F.a., pp. 98, 103 (dated 1654). (R26)

CHAIN LINES: vertical, 24-26 mm.
PROVENANCE: Sale, Amsterdam, Christie’s, 15 November 1993, lot 99, acquired at the sale.
LITERATURE: Slive 1995, pp. 455-6, fig. 49.

Giltaij 1995, pp. 87-8, 314, fig. 5.

EXHIBITIONS: 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.

Along with Rembrandt and Jan van Goyen, Jacob van Ruisdael is one of the great landscape draftsmen of the 17th century Netherlands.  It is he who created the vision of nature as a place inhospitable, or at least indifferent, to humankind, caught in an endless cycle of decay and rebirth.

On occasion, Ruisdael’s drawings express the drama and power of that vision; however, many of them are surprising in their subdued treatment of modest, everyday scenes.  Instead of great contrasts of scale or light and shadow, we are given an even tone, especially appropriate to their medium, black chalk with touches of gray wash.  Works such as the present sheet were surely not meant to be sold, and were only occasionally used as preparatory studies for paintings.  Rather, they seem to be personal notes, recording an interesting bend in the road or clump of trees, a way of stopping and looking more carefully.

This drawing is one of a large group datable to c. 1648-1655, some possibly made on the artist’s journey to Bentheim, in Germany.  The group as a whole, and this work in particular, are characterized by a profound response to the expressive possibilities of the medium of black chalk and gray wash, especially in the subtle control of tones and the flickering of the foliage in the sunlight and the breeze.