Together with Jozef Israels, Anton Mauve and H.W. Mesdag, Jacob Maris is regarded as the nucleus of the Hague School. When the fame of the Hague School was at its peak, around 1875, and long time after that, a vast audience from connoisseurs to uninitiated esteemed Maris as the greatest painter of his time. Critics saw Maris as the powerful central figure in which the Hague School reached its highest level.
In 1903 the renowned art critic miss G.H. Marius ranked Maris with a.o. Ruysdael, Vermeer and Rembrandt in her Hollandse Schilderkunst in de negentiende eeuw (Dutch Painters of the 19th Century, translation 1908). Marius stated that Maris in his Parisian period between 1864-1871 mastered the understanding of the essence and nature of the 17th century Dutch landscape art, through the influence of the Dutch Old Master on the painters of Barbizon. Marius refers to a work belonging to a series of paintings with ferry-boats that came about in 1870/71, "in which the traditions of our Dutch atmosphere are so exquisetly understood and reproduced as in this Ferry-boat which, once and for all, marked the return to sheer painting" (Marius, op.cit., p.128).
Born in The Hague, the eldest child of a printer of Czech ancestry and his Dutch wife, Jacob studied under J.A.B. Stroebel and Huib van Hove, both painters of Dutch old-fashioned doorkijkjes in the style of De Hoogh. Jacob's early paintings of interiors clearly show the influence of his teachers. In 1854 Jacob studied at the Antwerp Academie where his brothers Matthijs joined him a year later, thanks to a royal grant, obtained through the well-known marine painter Louis Meyer. Further Royal patronage provided them with funds for visits to Oosterbeek and Wolfheeze (sometimes reffered to as Barbizon in Holland) in 1859-60 and a trip to the Rhineland, Switzerland and France in 1861. These early paintings are mainly small genre- or figure subjects in a smooth, shiny style. Perhaps impelled by a desire for greater independence Jacob went to Paris, at first to work in the studio of Ernest Hébert producing studies of Italian peasant-types (cf. J. de Gruyter, De Haagse School, Rotterdam 1969, pp. 16-18).
In the exhibition catalogue De School van Barbizon (The Hague 1985) Hans Kraan and John Sillevis pointed out that Jacob Maris left for France in the spring of 1864 and not in 1865 as long time wrongly assumed due to Eisler's essay (op.cit., pp. 90-91).
Two studies of masses of rock, dated 1864, support the above theory and prove the fact that he almost immediately undertook a trip to the forest of Fontainebleau and Barbizon. Initially Maris painted little girls to which the French landscape forms a seemingly secondary background. Some of these italiennes, that were in great demand with the Goupil company, were exhibited at the Salon. The last painting from this series, La Tricoteuse (Gemeentemuseum, The Hague) from 1869, reveals techniques of which only Corot could have been the source. The same year Maris devoted himself to sheer landscape-paintings of which The Angler is among the earliest examples comparable to the present lot in spite of its vertical composition (oil on canvas, 53 x 39 cm, present location unknown, photograph recorded at the R.K.D., The Hague)
De hengelaar has a certain vigour to the brushwork in which Eisler recognized a sketch with coloration influences of Dupré (op.cit., pp. 35-37). Also the ferry-boat series revealed a brushstroke that began to broaden.
Our painting, that came in existence in the next year, may be looked upon as Maris' best attempt to self-devotion towards Corot. The smooth and shiny style with thinly applied paint is in full accordance with the hazy landscapes of Corot. Our painting may well be compared with Corot's Le Batelier amarrée (Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington D.C.). In spite of the fact that our painting is a lot smaller, the resemblances in both subject composition are striking and go further in the corresponding smooth brush-treatment and lovely atmosphere.
Eisler described the present lot with great appreciation and extraordinary colourful and vivid:
"Alleen al de compositie heeft de zachte lijn van Corot. Met teer penseel geschilderd verschijnt ons een bleekblauwe hemel onder een lichtgeel waas; de voorste groep heeft een lichter bronstoon, haar wazige rand verloopt in een lila tint, het verdere geboomte van de landtong schijnt een bruinachtig groen weefsel, dat bleeker in een lila waas ademt, in de verste verte een bleek blauw-grijs waas van boomen en heuvels. Dat zijn overgangen, die bij Corot kenmerkend zijn voor diens fijn gevoel, en men zou dergelijke woorden moeten gebruiken als men een werk van Corot's hand zou willen beschrijven. Maar het treffendste van dit prachtige schilderij is het lichte zwevende ervan en de zachte weemoed der stemming. Hoe ver was Jacob in deze Parijsche jaren gekomen! Hoe zeer was hij in zijn ontwikkeling als landschapsschilder vooruitgegaan, (...) met dit innerlijk bewogen, rijke stuk!".
Driven away by the Franco-Prussian War and the following Civil War, Jacob returned to The Hague with his wife and children in 1871, leaving his brother Matthijs who joined The Garde National.
Back in Holland he re-discovered the beauty of his own land."He abandoned the small scale of his early, lyrical work, giving a new direction to Dutch painting by the strength of his construction, emphatic, simplified colour, dramatic lighting and his broad, sure handling of paint" (de Gruyter, op.cit., p. 30), unmistakably evident in his Bisected Mill, a true Hague School masterpiece that was executed only a year after his return (Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam).
The influence of the French Impressionists from that time on is more distant, but sometimes to re-appear in a modified way of colouring and brushwork. Through the influence of the art of Barbizon and the Corot-like tonality and suggestion of a "sensible" atmosphere, Maris developed his own style of painting, that he would pass on to a younger generation of Hague School painters.
See colour illustration and front cover illustration