Wooded farmstead behind a wall


Jan van KESSEL

Amsterdam 1641 – 1680 Amsterdam

Wooded farmstead behind a wall

Brush in gray and black ink over black chalk; gray ink framing lines.

294 x 420 mm (11-5/8 x 16-5/8 in).

WATERMARK: none. (R17)
CHAIN LINES: horizontal, 27-29 mm.
INSCRIPTIONS: verso, at upper left Ah 2/63 (pencil); at lower left AX421 (pencil).
PROVENANCE: De Jong, Wassenaar.

Sale, Amsterdam, Christie’s, 12 November 1990, lot 99, acquired at the sale.

LITERATURE: Davies 1992, p. 263, no. d69 (illus.).

Plomp 1997, p. 454, under cat. no. 545.

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.

A skillful landscape specialist in and around his native Amsterdam, Jan van Kessel is credited with 120 paintings and 69 drawings (Davies 1992).  In many of his drawings, his fluid use of gray wash and black chalk are comparable with the techniques practiced by his presumed master Jacob van Ruisdael from the 1660s.  This landscape shows strong likenesses with characteristics of other drawings in Jan van Kessel’s landscape oeuvre, such as Davies nos. d16, d29, d35, d57, d61, d62 and d66.  Davies dates the drawing to about 1665.

Van Kessel describes the foliage in this summer scene with precise dapples of brushwork over squiggly indications in black chalk, one of his customary techniques.  The sunlight for the drawing is coming from the right and slightly behind the spatial plane, a direction characteristic in van Kessel’s drawings, but rarer among his contemporaries’ work.  He tends to represent chimneys awkwardly askew of roof peaks, as seen in this drawing.

Michiel Plomp (1997) in his catalogue of the Dutch drawings in the Teyler Museum published another version (Fig. 1) of this drawing, also in black chalk and gray wash and of a similar size.  He attributed the Teyler’s version to Anthonie Waterloo (1609–1690).  Stylistically, the attribution to Waterloo seems right.  The Waterloo drawing exhibits extensive use of black chalk to delineate the tree trunks, branches and the enclosure.  In contrast, the van Kessel shows only some faint outlines of black chalk with the bulk of his drawing done with brush in gray ink.  The question remains: Which version/artist presents the original composition and which is the copy?

In comparing the two works, the Waterloo fails to represent faithfully some important details found in the van Kessel version.  In both versions, a gated footbridge over a stream is seen beginning at the edge of the enclosure fence near the shoreline at the right side of the sheet.  A man carrying a pole is on the bridge, walking towards an opening in the enclosure.  In the van Kessel drawing, this bridge runs diagonal to the enclosure wall, which itself is depicted in back of the bridge’s gate.  In the Waterloo version, the enclosure wall appears to insert in front of the diagonal gate, an architectural impossibility.  Moreover, a tree at the outside corner of the compound is drawn by van Kessel with the trunk partially hidden behind a bough of leaves.  This tree is seen branching and continuing above the bough.  In the Waterloo version, the artist used black chalk to create an strangely foreshortened trunk with an unnaturally thick and rounded top – even unlike a pollarded tree – a possible result of careless “reading” of van Kessel’s luminous brushwork.  These kinds of  “translation” discrepancies often reveal a work as a copy of a more cohesive original version.

For a copy of the drawing to have been made, one of the two artists must have had both at one time.  It would have been far more likely for Waterloo to have had the van Kessel, than the converse situation.  Waterloo was heavily into commercial art dealings in his later years.  For example, he bought the etching plates of Johannes Ruischer after the artist’s death around 1675, reworked some and published them under his own address (Trautscholdt 1973).  With Jan van Kessel dying at 39 years in 1680, ten years before Anthonie Waterloo’s death, it is probable that Waterloo bought some of van Kessel’s estate, including this handsome large drawing, for commercial advantage.

Furthermore, the van Kessel sheet has no watermark and is on thick paper, virtually impossible to trace through.  Plomp reports the presence of a five-bell fool’s-cap watermark in the paper for the Waterloo drawing.  Paper displaying a watermark generally possesses a notable degree of translucency, making it more manageable as an overlay sheet for copying methods.

Thus, all evidence points to this tranquil farmstead scene as an original composition drawn by Jan van Kessel around 1665.  The version by Anthonie Waterloo at the Teyler Museum appears to be a repetition done in the 1680s, the final decade of Waterloo’s life.