This beautifully rendered landscape is a striking example of the pictorial and technical accomplishments of Herman van Swanevelt. Dated to circa 1645-46, while van Swanevelt was active in Paris, it shows the artist at the height of his power.
On an impressive scale, the artist creates a monumental yet intimate landscape, depicting tall woodland with sweeping foliage, which hovers over a diagonally placed stream. Gentle rock formations in the fore and middle ground are covered with lush foliage under a blue, overcast sky. Underneath the ruins of a walled town, a path with two travellers leads the eye to a grand view of the hazy, mountainous view beyond. A large boulder in the middle of the water is intelligently lit by raking sunlight, as is the lower left bank, where a hunter and his dogs are resting. Here, van Swanevelt masterfully succeeds in creating a dreamlike, early morning atmosphere.
While his earlier landscapes are immediately associated with the pastoral views of Claude Lorrain, with whom van Swanevelt not only shared his home and studio in Rome in the 1620s but also exchanged artistic ideas, the present composition is more baroque in mood and has in the past been attributed to his Parisian contemporary, Laurent de la Hyre. An attribution to his Italian pupil Francesco Catalani has also been tentatively suggested, pointing to the more expressive temperament of the landscape. Both Ann Sutherland Harris and Anne Charlotte Steland rightly included the present painting within the late oeuvre of van Swanevelt, dating it to his Parisian years. Steland further ascribed the staffage to Jan Asselijn, comparing the figure of the hunter to the horseman in the Cavalry attack at sunset of 1646 in the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam (inv. no. A5), and to the cloaked gentleman in the Beggars receiving food of 1647, formerly in Dresden (inv. no. 1592; Steland, op. cit., p. 166). In the present composition, Asselijn placed the huntsman half in the shade, achieving a captivating chiaroscuro effect, drawing the eye to the lower left area and adding a sense of lyrical enchantment to the mood of the landscape.
Asselijn and van Swanevelt knew each other from their Roman sojourn. Van Swanevelt resided in Rome between 1629 and early 1641, where he became hugely successful, receiving prestigious commissions from such patrons as the Barberini and Pamphilj families, the Spanish Court and the Vatican. Asselijn probably arrived in the early 1630s and was, like van Swanevelt, a member of the Bentvueghels, with the two artists named respectively ‘Crabbetje’ and ‘Eremiet’. By 1641, van Swanevelt travelled via Florence and Venice to Paris. His fame had preceded him, and he was naturalised and appointed peintre ordinaire du roi in 1644. In that same year, Asselijn left Rome and is recorded as having married in Lyon and travelled north to Paris. In circa 1644-46, both painters assisted in the decoration of the Cabinet de l'Amour of the Hôtel Lambert, alongside other celebrated artists such as Eustache Le Sueur and Francesco Romanelli. Together with Pierre Patel, van Swanevelt and Asselijn were responsible for painting the landscapes for Nicolas Lambert. It is in these years that the current large canvas must have been executed. A note in the diary of fellow artist Willem Schellinks provides a terminus ante quem, as he writes Asselijn left Paris on 10 August 1646.
This picture is one of only three known collaborations between van Swanevelt and Asselijn (see Woerden, op. cit., p. 44, note 39), one that has been described by Anne Charlotte Steland as a ‘masterly collaboration’ (Steland, ibid., p. 166).