This generously scaled and dramatically composed landscape anchored by two large oak trees rising from the central foreground bears striking similarities with works like Ruisdael’s black chalk drawing of a pair of oak trees at a river’s edge (fig. 1). Further comparison can be made with an untraced drawing from the Beurdeley Collection in Paris (see Slive, op. cit., no. D109) and Ruisdael’s etched The Three Oaks, both dated 1649. Such groupings of two or three trees silhouetted against an open sky which ultimately give way to a verdant, deeply receding landscape suggests Ruisdael's early awareness of works like Rembrandt’s celebrated etching of The Three Trees from 1643.
In his pioneering monograph on Ruisdael, the eminent German art historian Jakob Rosenberg first published the Feldstein painting as an early work by the artist (loc. cit.). Wolfgang Stechow and Walther Bernt proposed an alternative attribution to Cornelis Vroom, while others suggested the name of Jan Lagoor. George Keyes, who has published on both Vroom (1975) and Lagoor (1979), initially supported an attribution to Vroom in a 1981 letter to the painting's former owner, Karl Herweg, but has since had the opportunity to study the painting further and does not believe it to be by either artist (see Sutton, op. cit., p. 58). Seymour Slive, who only knew of the painting from a black-and-white photograph, included it in his 2001 catalogue of Ruisdael's works (loc. cit.), but altered his opinion prior to the painting’s 2005 sale. In recent years, scholarly opinion has turned definitively in favor of Ruisdael, with the attribution having been independently endorsed by both Peter Sutton (loc. cit.) and Frits Duparc (private communication, 23 July 2020).
The painting is first recorded in the possession of the Sheremetev family in Russia. Its subsequent provenance indicates that it probably belonged to Count Aleksandr Dmitriyevich Sheremetev (1859-1931), a noted composer, conductor and entrepreneur who was forced to flee Russia in 1917 to his estates in Finland before settling in Belgium and, ultimately, Paris. By 1931, presumably following Sheremetev’s death that year, the painting came into the possession of Count Valentin Platonovich Zubov. He was the younger brother of Count Sergueï Platonovitch Zubov (1881-1964), whose first wife, Elisabeth Alexandrovna Countess Scheremeteva (1884-1962), was the eldest daughter of Count Sheremetev. Count Zubov was a well-known figure in Russian artistic circles. Having returned from his studies in Germany, including under Heinrich Wölfflin in Berlin, in 1912 he founded the Institute of Art History, now part of the Russian Academy of Sciences and the Ministry of Culture of the Russian Federation, at his family’s palace situated at 5 St. Isaac’s Square. Following the February Revolution, he was entrusted with the conversion of Gatchina Palace into a museum, ultimately serving as its first director before departing for Paris in 1925.