‘Amongst the landscape painters there is still living Cornelis Vroom, who…excels so much in his art that he surpasses all who live.’
-Theodorus Schrevelius, Harlemias (1648)
The son of the marine painter Hendrick Vroom, Cornelis’ works are today rare – only approximately forty paintings and an equal number of drawings survive – and were highly esteemed by Holland’s elite in the seventeenth century. Records indicate that Vroom was paid the princely sum of 450 guilders for landscapes to decorate Honselaarsdijk Palace, the hunting lodge of the Prince Frederik Hendrik, and similarly enjoyed the patronage of the stadholder’s secretary, Constantijn Huygens. While he was first documented as a member of Haarlem’s painters guild in 1635, he departed it for reasons not entirely clear in 1642. It is believed the court’s favor may have freed him from the guild’s jurisdiction.
This painting, which was unknown to George Keyes at the time of his 1975 monograph, probably dates to shortly before one of the few dated paintings by Vroom, the Landscape with a waterfall of 1638 (Frans Hals Museum, Haarlem). The silhouette of branches and leaves bisected by a diagonal pathway creates a gossamer screen against the late afternoon sky that can be further compared with the artist’s River landscape seen through trees of circa 1638 (fig. 1; Mauritshuis, The Hague). These mature paintings proved influential on a younger generation of Haarlem landscapists, including Guillaum Dubois, Jan Lagoor and, most notably, Jacob van Ruisdael.
This painting once belonged to the famed collection of the silk merchant and Free Trade Liberal MP Wynn Ellis, who in 1876 bequeathed a part of his sizable collection of mainly Dutch Golden Age paintings to The National Gallery, London. This painting cannot be identified with certainty in any of the Ellis sales held at Christie’s in the spring and summer of 1876 but could plausibly be identified as one of three paintings, two given to Meindert Hobbema and one to Jacob van Ruisdael, in the sale on 27 May. So esteemed was Ellis' collection of paintings attributed to Ruisdael that Gustav Waagen wrote approvingly that ‘The pictures which Mr. Wynn Ellis possesses by this admirable painter are calculated to suggest fresh ideas of his genius even with those connoisseurs well acquainted with the numerous specimens scattered through the great galleries of Europe' (G. Waagen, The Treasures of Art in Great Britain, II, London, 1854, p. 296).