In the same distinguished collection since 1891, this spectacular Haarlempje, has somehow managed to escape the attention of all the principal chroniclers of Jacob van Ruisdael’s paintings over the years, from Hofstede de Groote and Jakob Rosenberg to Seymour Slive. It now joins an important group of just four known upright panoramas of Ruisdael’s native city, all painted in the 1670s, that together constitute what Seymour Slive regarded as ‘the summit of his [Ruisdael’s] achievement’ in this area (S. Slive, Jacob van Ruisdael, New Haven and London, 2001, p. 51).
With one or two exceptions, Ruisdael only began to paint these views of Haarlem in the 1660s, after he had settled in Amsterdam, invariably depicting the city from afar, basing his compositions on drawings made in the field, a few of which have survived. Slive lists sixteen such views (excluding those of Alkmaar, several of which have been confused in the past with Haarlem), of which only the four works referred to above (all on canvas and of similar dimensions) are on an upright format: Amsterdam, Rijksmuseum (fig 1); London, Mansion House, Harold Samuel Collection (fig. 2); Zurich, Kunsthaus, Stiftung Prof. Dr. L. Ruzicka (fig. 3); and private collection, Scotland (ibid.). The present view relates most closely to the Samuel picture, showing the city from the West from the dunes at Overveen with Haarlem’s distinctive profile and the cathedral of St. Bavo breaking the skyline in the centre. The elevated viewpoint is slightly further removed in the Iveagh painting allowing for a more detailed rendition of the foreground, which shows two carriages, sportsmen and travellers on a sandy track leading in and out of the city. At the time of its sale in 1891, as is still the case now, the figurative element was presumed to be by Adriaen van de Velde (1636-1672) who was frequently employed by Ruisdael and other landscape artists, such as Meindert Hobbema and Jan Wijnants, to supply the staffage. His part in these collaborative efforts is thought to have demonstrably increased their market value at the time.
The Iveagh picture is testament to Ruisdael’s chief contribution to the tradition of the panoramic landscape, which was to convert the horizontal format developed by the likes of Cornelis Vroom, Jan van Goyen and Philips Koninck, to an upright format. Rather than constrict the effect of sweeping landscape, Ruisdael managed to achieve the opposite with his dazzling technical bravura and profound understanding of lighting and spatial effects. Two thirds of the composition are here devoted to the sky and a sublime rendition of the interplay of light and clouds. The resulting passages of alternating light and shadow in the landscape create an effortless sense of movement and recession that lend the painting, as Peter Sutton has remarked of the Samuel picture ‘a grandeur that belies its diminutive scale’ (P. Sutton, The Harold Samuel Collection, London, 1992, p. 173, under cat. no. 59).
Edward Cecil Guinness, 1st Earl of Iveagh (1847-1927) was the great-grandson of Arthur Guinness, the founder in 1759 of the celebrated brewery in Dublin. Hugely successful in business, he began to collect pictures on a grand scale in 1887, and was for several years Agnew’s most significant client. A major Cuyp was one of his first two purchases from the firm, and although English portraits were to dominate his London mansion in Grosvenor Place, Guinness evidently had a deep appreciation of pictures of the Dutch 17th century. This can still be experienced at Kenwood, the remarkable house enlarged by Robert Adam which he bequeathed to the nation with a substantial portion of his collection. This included the celebrated self-portrait by Rembrandt and Vermeer’s Lady playing a Guitar, both masterpieces of the highest order, and major works by Hals, Cuyp, Isaak van Ostade and Claude de Jongh. Guinness paid £826 17s. 6d. for this picture, the more expensive of the two Ruisdaels he bought, on June 22nd 1891, giving his dealer a small profit on the amount it fetched at Christie’s just two days earlier. Agnew’s account book reveals that they often acted on their client’s behalf at Christie’s and at least eleven pictures now at Kenwood were bought in the same manner. The Ruisdael price can be compared with the 1,000 guineas (£1,050) that the Vermeer cost two years earlier.