This is a particularly fine example of Van Goyen's work of the 1640s, demonstrative of the artist's development away from a purely tonal style of golden browns towards a more naturalistic - even poetic - range of soft grey-blues, greens, dark browns and greys. Max Friedländer wrote of the landscapes of Jan van Goyen and Salomon Ruysdael that: 'The weather in Van Goyen's pictures always makes one think: it will soon rain. Ruysdael's pictures make one feel it has rained', and that vivid atmospheric impression is beautifully conveyed within the palette range and through the superbly confident brushwork. The composition is similarly characteristic of the period, based around the strong wedge shape frequently employed by Van Goyen in his river landscapes, the receding banks and craft on the river emphasizing the three-dimensional recession towards the horizon.
The subject was one that Van Goyen painted on a number of occasions, the earliest depiction being dated 1633 (Beck, op. cit., p. 169, no. 342), presumably due to the compositional (and quite possibly also popular) impact of the Valkhof, which enjoyed a spectacular position over the Waal, and of which views were consistently sought by contemporaries. Throughout his career, Van Goyen travelled widely in the United Provinces, making sketches from nature that he subsequently employed in his painted oeuvre. One such, dating from the early 1630s and drawn 'naer het leven', survives of Nijmegen that was presumably used as the prototype for many of his subsequent depictions, including quite possibly the present work.
The Valkhof, the main citadel of Nijmegen, was constructed by the Emperor Charlemagne in the eighth century; partially destroyed by the Vikings and rebuilt by the Emperor Frederick Barbarossa, it was finally destroyed by Napoleon's troops. Van Goyen's role in recording the former appearance of this remarkable building is touched on by the traveller E.V. Lucas, who wrote (A Wanderer in Holland, London, 1905): 'if one would study Dutch romantic scenery I think Nymwegen on the whole a better town to stay in than Arnheim. Nymwegen has many lions, chief of which perhaps is the Valkhof, in the grounds above the river - the remains of a palace of the Carlovingians. It is of immense age, being at once the oldest building in Holland and the richest in historic memories. For here lived Charlemagne and Charles the Bald, Charles the Bold and Maximilian of Austria. The palace might still be standing were it not for the destructiveness of the French at the end of the eighteenth century. A picture by Jan van Goyen in the stadhuis gives an idea of the Valkhof in his day, before vandalism had set in.'
Even if the building is now lost, the impression of the composition remains as effective as it was then, and it is no coincidence that a particularly high proportion of Van Goyen's Nijmegen views are today in public collections, including the Rheinischen Landesmusem, Bonn; the Rathaus, Nijmegen; the Louvre, Paris; the Bayerische Staatsgemäldesammlungen, Munich; the Staatliche Museen, Berlin; and the Rijksmuseum Twenthe, Enschede.