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Jacob van Ruisdael (Haarlem 1628/9-1682 Amsterdam)
Property from a Private European Collection
Jacob van Ruisdael (Haarlem 1628/9-1682 Amsterdam)

Sailing vessels in a stormy sea near a rocky coast

Jacob van Ruisdael (Haarlem 1628/9-1682 Amsterdam)
Sailing vessels in a stormy sea near a rocky coast
signed ‘JvRuisdael’ (lower right, 'JvR' linked)
oil on canvas
18 ½ x 25 5/8 in. (47 x 65.2 cm.)
L.H. Hicks; his sale, Christie's, London, 20 December 1905, lot 92.
M. Littleton, 1913.
with R.L. Douglas, 1913.
with Kleykamp, The Hague, by 1925.
with Colnaghi, London, 1925.
Etienne Nicolas, Paris.
Anonymous sale; Sotheby's, London, 27 June 1962, lot 32, sold for £2,500 to Katz, possibly for the following,
Dr. Hans Wetzlar, Amsterdam; his sale (†), Sotheby Mak van Waay, Amsterdam, 9 June 1977, lot 76, sold for 200,000 guilders to the following,
with Colnaghi, London.
with Galerie Nathan, 1978.
Hans Peter Wertitsch, Vienna, 1987, and by descent to the present owners.
C. Hofstede de Groot, Catalogue Raisonné of the Works of the Most Eminent Dutch Painters of the 17th Century, London, 1912, IV, p. 306, no. 984d.
J. Rosenberg, Jacob van Ruisdael, Berlin, 1928, no. 592.
S. Slive, Jacob van Ruisdael: A Complete Catalogue of His Paintings, Drawings and Etchings, New Haven and London, 2001, p. 465, no. 658.
The Hague, Kunstzaal Kleykamp, Tentoonstelling van schilderijen door oud-Hollandsche en Vlaamsche meesters, 1925, no. 45.
Tokyo, Museum of Occidental Art; and Kyoto, The Century of Rembrandt, 1968-9, no. 55.
Zurich, Galerie Nathan, 20 April-30 June 1978, no. 31.
Vienna, Akademie der Bildenden Künste, Wasser-Luft-Licht. Ausgewählte Marinestücke des holländischen 17. Jahrhunderts, 20 May-7 September 2014.
Vienna, Gemäldegalerie der Akademie der Bildenden Künste, 2010-2017 (on loan).

Lot Essay

Though Jacob van Ruisdael painted only around thirty marine pictures, of which only twenty-four are recorded as extant by Seymor Slive in his 2001 catalogue raisonné, they represent one of the most powerful and dynamic groups of works in the painter’s oeuvre. Such was their success that, only decades after his death, Arnold Houbraken wrote, in his famed De groote schouburgh der Nederlantsche konstschilders en schilderessen, published posthumously between 1718 and 1721, that Ruisdael ‘could also depict the sea, and when he chose, a tempestuous sea with violent waves lashing against rocks and dunes. In this type of painting he was one of the very best’ (Slive, op. cit., p. 449). More significantly still, from all the motifs which reoccur through the painter’s work, it was only Ruisdael’s seascapes and waterfall pictures which Houbraken singled out for specific notice.
The billowing storm clouds and charged, atmospheric use of light of this picture epitomise Houbraken’s praise. More than two thirds of the canvas are taken up by the sky, with the interplay between the storm clouds and the pale sunlight behind rendered with consummate skill. The inclusion of rocks, against which the rough waves break, is found in only three of Ruisdael’s seascapes, with most other works replacing them with wooden piles, jetties or wharfs. The earliest of these pictures is likely the painting now in a New York private collection (Slive, op. cit., no. 652) which has been dated to the late 1650s. Following this is a painting in the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation in Lisbon (inv. no. 120), dated by Slive to circa 1660. The present seascape is likely to postdate both of these works and was probably painted in around 1670. As such, it can be regarded, perhaps, as the culmination of Ruisdael’s efforts with this particular motif, in which he was able to refine the elements he had employed in previous paintings to produce the assured composition and beautifully rendered waves and clouds which characterise the Sailing vessels in a stormy sea near a rocky coast.
The emphasis on the contrast of light and dark, choppy waves and atmospheric sky which Ruisdael employed to such effect in this seascape can be found in works produced late in the career of Jan Porcellis (1580-1632), ‘the epoch-making’ marine painter of the seventeenth century (Slive, op. cit., p. 449). The towering sky, rough waves and careful observations of light and shade which, for example, characterise Porcellis’s Three ‘Damloopers’ in a fresh breeze, (Oxford, Ashmolean Museum, inv. no. A354) can clearly be seen as the precursor to Ruisdael’s marines.
It was under the broad influence of painters like Porcellis that maritime painting truly began to flourish during the seventeenth century. From the very early years of the century Karel van Mander wrote of the early marine painter Hendrick Conrelisz. Vroom that ‘since there is much seafaring in Holland, the public also started to take great pleasure in these little ships’ (Het Schilder-boek, Amsterdam, 1603-1604, I, fol. 288r). The unprecedented prosperity which had been generated by flourishing trade networks naturally led to an increased interest in shipping, whether mercantile or naval. This in turn fostered and encouraged the emergence of a new genre of painting and provided a buoyant demand for such works amongst patrons in Holland (L.O. Goedde, ‘Seascape as History and Metaphor’, in J. Giltaij and J. Kelch (eds.), Praise of Ships and the Sea: The Dutch Marine Painters of the 17th Century, exhibition catalogue, Rotterdam and Berlin, 1996, p. 59). This increasing taste for marine painting coincided with a desire to demonstrate the nautical power of the United Provinces and its perceived (or desired) monopoly over the sea. In many cases this patriotic taste was satisfied by large-scale paintings of naval victories and ceremonial events commissioned by civic authorities for public buildings. Though Ruisdael did not paint such a picture, nor chose to focus on the ports of Holland’s major cities, his ubiquitous inclusion of ships, many of which prominently fly the Dutch flag, still demonstrates an awareness and desire to present the nation’s maritime power.
The seascape in Holland during the seventeenth century, however, was not solely used as a virtuoso display of artistic talent, or as a means of emphasising Dutch maritime power. It became, as so often the case in the emblematically rich and intellectually vibrant Netherlands, imbued with symbolic connotations. Marine paintings were frequently included in genre paintings as a means of commentating on the state of mind of the protagonists and, usually, their affairs of the heart. This likening of human emotions to the changeability of the sea was popularised in the Netherlands by the poet Jan Hermansz. Krul in his Minne-beelden, published in Amsterdam in 1640, which included a well-known illustration of Cupid guiding the rudder of a ship in full-sail under the motto ‘Als aijt hij vert, noyt uyt het hert’ (‘Although you are faraway, you are in my heart’; P. Sutton (ed.), Love Letters: Dutch Genre Paintings in the Age of Vermeer, exhibition catalogue, Dublin, 2003, p. 82). The accompanying verses beneath furthered this idea, explaining that, like the sea, love might ‘one hour cause hope / the next fear’ through its mutability (ibid., p. 45).
Ruisdael’s significant impact on the landscape genre continued to be felt centuries after his death, in particular on the work of J.M.W. Turner, whose interest in Ruisdael’s work appears to have begun as early as his first visit to the Louvre in 1802. Here he made sketches of the earlier master’s Storm on the Dutch Coast and his celebrated Le Coup de Soleil, noting his appreciation of the former for its contrasting play of light and dark. The artist’s enthusiasm for Ruisdael’s seascapes eventually led to the creation of his Port Ruysdael (New Haven, Yale Center for British Art, fig. 1), an imagined view from a port, characterised by typically Ruisdael-esque features, like the frothy waves, large clouds and strongly articulated contrasts of light.

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