The superlative quality of this landscape has been consistently recognised on the few occasions that it has been seen in public. When the picture last changed hands in 1846 at the sale of Aubert de Trucy in Paris, the catalogue concluded: 'Ce magnifique paysage, trés poetiquement composé, est clair dans toutes ces parties, d'une couleur transparante, et du fini le plus précieux auquel l'art puisse atteindre. Conservation parfaite'. It was similarly admired by Gerson in his review of Dutch landscapes from the Royal Academy exhibition in 1952 (loc. cit.), and in 1977, Crombie (loc. cit.) recognised it as 'perhaps the best thing the famous flower painter ever did in this, his second choice of subject matter'.
It was of course flower paintings that established Van Huysum's pre-eminence in his own lifetime and for which he is generally regarded as one of the genre's greatest exponents. His landscapes are much rarer and, although highly prized by collectors in the early eighteenth century, have since been paid little attention. Van Huysum appears to have painted landscapes intermittently throughout his career and the number of known works in this area is given as thirty-six or more by Irene Haberland (The Dictionary of Art, Jane Turner ed., London, 1996, XV, p. 46); his reasons for doing so are not altogether clear. It certainly would have made little commercial sense as the earnings from his still lifes would have far outweighed prices for the landscapes, making it tempting to suppose that the artist painted them for pleasure.
The earlier works are rooted in the Dutch Italianate tradition and show the influence of Johannes Glauber and Albert Meyeringh in particular. By the late 1620s Van Huysum's pictures had become grander in conception and more overtly classical thematically; the figure types are more evolved and he paid increasing attention to the detail in the scenery. This can be seen in the signed works of 1727 and 1728, respectively sold, Sotheby's, New York, 5 April 1990, lot 357 ($192,500), and in the Historisches Museum, Amsterdam.
The present work can be dated contemporaneously with those two pictures. The Bacchic theme is recurrent in his oeuvre (see for example, the piainting sold in these Rooms, 29 November 1968, lot 57), but the figures are here given greater prominence, especially in the light-hearted depiction of Silenus taking honey from a bee's nest in the left foreground. Van Huysum imbues the scene with a level of refinement that is akin to his best flower paintings and is arguably unparalleled within his landscape oeuvre. Such meticulous attention to detail combined with the masterful depiction of light and distance, render this one of Van Huysum's most successful achievements in landscape, if not his masterpiece.
The picture's success may have inspired a secondary version, in the picture in a German private collection exhibited at the Pfälzgalerie Kaiserslantern, Kunst Aus Pfälzer Privatbesitz, 10 May-21 June 1970.