Jacob van Ruisdael’s reputation as the most talented and versatile of the Dutch landscape painters of the Golden Age has remained undiminished since his lifetime. Dating to circa 1660, this painting, which has highly distinguished provenance, is a fine example of his early mature style and is one of a significant group of works which he executed in collaboration with Adriaen van de Velde (who painted the figures and sheep).
Ruisdael’s earliest woodland landscapes, which date to the second half of the 1640s, assimilate influences from Cornelis Vroom’s work, especially in their delicate and meticulous treatment of foliage. By the following decade, with works like the Great Oak of 1652 (Los Angeles, LACMA), Ruisdael had begun to fully assert his mastery of the genre. In the present painting, he has employed a favourite compositional device, by depicting a dense grove of trees at the left, with a strong diagonal line descending toward an open vista at the left. The composition is punctuated in the centre by glimmers of sunlight breaking between the tree trunks in the middle ground. The light, feathery treatment of the foliage and grasses, combined with the fluid, painterly execution of the towering sky and billowing clouds are characteristic stylistic traits of Ruisdael’s artistic maturity and demonstrate his acute powers of observation.
Ruisdael collaborated with Adriaen van de Velde (1636-1672) on a number of significant occasions. For example, van de Velde supplied the staffage and fauna for Ruisdael’s great Stage Hunt in a wood with a marsh (Dresden, Staatliche Kunstsammlungen); for the Extensive landscape with a ruined castle and a village church (London, National Gallery); and for his Waterfall in a hilly landscape (St Petersburg, State Hermitage Museum). The scale and treatment of van de Velde’s figures and sheep in the present painting are similar to those in Ruisdael’s Hilly landscape with a high road (Amsterdam, Rijksmuseum), likewise dated to the 1660s.
This painting is first recorded in the collection of Pieter van Winter, an Amsterdam merchant, who took over his father’s business dealing in dyes and indigo after 1768. A passionate collector throughout his life, van Winter purchased works by many of the leading painters of the Dutch Golden Age. His collection passed to his daughters, Lucretia Johanna van Winter and Anna Louisa van Loon. After Anna’s death, the collection was sold en bloc in 1878 to the Rothschild family, comprising, amongst many others, Rembrandt’s magnificent portraits of Marten Soolmans and Oopjen Coppit (Amsterdam, Rijksmuseum; and Paris, Louvre), Gabriel Metsu’s Portrait of a woman, probably Lucia Wijbrants in Minneapolis (Institute of Arts), Adriaen van de Velde’s Cattle and sheep in a river landscape (Boston, Museum of Fine Arts) and Wouwerman’s The cavalry camp (New York, Frick Collection), as well as a superb pair of still lifes by Jan van Huysum (Los Angeles, J.P. Getty Museum).