Van Goyen recorded this small but extraordinary panoramic view from the belltower of the church of St. Bavo in Haarlem, but he arbitrarily placed the same building on the horizon like a signpost suggesting the general locale. Beyond the imaginary foregound, the river Spaarne meanders toward the Haarlemmer Meer (Haarlem Lake), an inland body of fresh water that was filled in during the nineteenth century.
Van Goyen's sweeping landscape view is one of the finest paintings acquired in the Museum's founding purchase of 1871, and remains among the most admired Dutch pictures in the collection. The Haarlemmer Meer (Haarlem Sea) was an inland body of fresh water (reclaimed in the nineteenth century) that extended from near Haarlem eastward to below Amsterdam; south to Warmond, near Leiden; and north to the inlet IJ, which led to the Zuiderzee and the North Sea.
On the horizon is the unmistakable profile of Saint Bavo's, the Grote Kerk of Haarlem. The familiar motif would lead one to assume that the view is to the north, and that the billowing clouds are blowing in from the coast beyond the trees in the left background. Such a panorama might have been recorded from the towers of the Heemstede Castle, although the viewpoint seems even more elevated here. In fact, Van Goyen based the composition on two of seven sheets in a sketchbook of 1644 (private collection, on loan to the Museum Bredius, The Hague) that record panoramic views from a vantage point high in the bell tower of Saint Bavo's. Page 20 of the sketchbook corresponds very approximately to the left two-thirds of the MMA picture, which Van Goyen presumably painted in The Hague about two years later. In the drawing, the view is to the south and slightly southeast, just the opposite of what one might think when viewing the final work. Heemstede Castle with its two towers is visible, in the sketch, in the right background and, in the painting, near the sailboat at right center. Like a signpost for the general area, Saint Bavo's was arbitrarily placed on the horizon (as was the church tower farther to the right).
The waterway that meanders back through the middle ground is the river Spaarne, which grew considerably wider as it flowed southward to the Haarlemmer Meer. The Meer itself appears in the background of the sketch, and more ambiguously in the painting, where the large body of water begins at the beacon breaking the horizon in the center of the view. The entire foreground of the painting is invented. This area, which would have encompassed many houses on the south side of Haarlem, was left blank in the sketch. The windmills and smoking limekiln in the painting appear to have been inspired by similar motifs found in another drawing in the Bredius sketchbook, on the bottom half of the following page. As in so many pictures with more or less recognizable topography, it was the overall impression or spirit of the place that appealed to Van Goyen.
[2011; adapted from Liedtke 2007]
Inscription: Signed and dated (lower left): V G 1646
?sale, Paris, April 16, 1811, no. 69, for Fr 102 to Este; [Léon Gauchez, Paris]; William T. Blodgett, Paris (from 1870; sold half share to Johnston); William T. Blodgett, Paris, and John Taylor Johnston, New York (1870–71; sold to MMA)
New York. World's Fair. "Masterpieces of Art: European & American Paintings, 1500–1900," May–October 1940, no. 92 (as "Panoramic View of the Environs of Haarlem").
Amsterdam. Rijksmuseum. "The Glory of the Golden Age," April 15–September 17, 2000, no. 83.
Staatsgalerie Stuttgart. "Die Entdeckung der Landschaft: Meisterwerke der niederländischen Kunst des 16. und 17. Jahrhunderts," October 15, 2005–February 5, 2006, no. 49.
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "The Age of Rembrandt: Dutch Paintings in The Metropolitan Museum of Art," September 18, 2007–January 6, 2008, no catalogue.
Apeldoorn. CODA Museum. "The Discovery of the Netherlands," May 8–September 28, 2008, unnumbered cat.
Louis Decamps. "Un musée transatlantique (2e article)." Gazette des beaux-arts, 2nd ser., 5 (May 1872), p. 436.
F[ritz von]. Harck. "Berichte und Mittheilungen aus Sammlungen und Museen, über staatliche Kunstpflege und Restaurationen, neue Funde: Aus amerikanischen Galerien." Repertorium für Kunstwissenschaft 11 (1888), p. 76, describes it as a "splendid picture in gray-green tones, excellent condition".
C. Hofstede de Groot. A Catalogue Raisonné of the Works of the Most Eminent Dutch Painters of the Seventeenth Century. Ed. Edward G. Hawke. Vol. 8, London, 1927, p. 146, no. 579, as "View of a Broad Flat Landscape Intersected by Water Channels"; notes "in the right centre, a great church reminiscent of the Groote Kerk at Haarlem".
H. U. Beck. Ein Skizzenbuch von Jan van Goyen. The Hague, 1966, p. 14 n. 18, notes that pages 20 and 21 of the Bredius sketchbook show a similar viewpoint, but without the church of Saint Bavo appearing on the horizon.
Anna Dobrzycka. Jan van Goyen, 1596–1656. Poznan, Poland, 1966, p. 44 n. 17, p. 112, no. 169, fig. 117.
Hans-Ulrich Beck. Jan van Goyen, 1596–1656. Vol. 2, Katalog der Gemälde. Amsterdam, 1973, pp. 441–42, no. 980, ill., notes a large church, "(Haarlem?)", on the horizon.
Peter C. Sutton. A Guide to Dutch Art in America. Grand Rapids, Mich., 1986, p. 191.
Peter C. Sutton inMasters of 17th-Century Dutch Landscape Painting. Exh. cat., Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam. Boston, 1987, p. 37, fig. 52.
Walter A. Liedtke. "'Pentimenti' in our Pictures of Salomon van Ruysdael and of Jan van Goyen." Shop Talk: Studies in Honor of Seymour Slive. Ed. Cynthia P. Schneider et al. Cambridge, Mass., 1995, pp. 156–57 n. 35, fig. 7.
Walter A. Liedtke inTimken Museum of Art: European Works of Art, American Paintings, and Russian Icons in the Putnam Foundation Collection. Ed. Fronia W. Simpson. San Diego, 1996, p. 102, notes that the church of Saint Bavo is arbitrarily inserted on the horizon.
Christiaan Vogelaar. Jan van Goyen. Exh. cat., Stedelijk Museum De Lakenhal, Leiden. Zwolle, The Netherlands, 1996, p. 119, fig. 97.
Frances Suzman Jowell. "Thoré-Bürger's Art Collection: 'A Rather Unusual Gallery of Bric-à-Brac'." Simiolus 30, no. 1/2 (2003), pp. 93–94, fig. 63.
Katharine Baetjer. "Buying Pictures for New York: The Founding Purchase of 1871." Metropolitan Museum Journal 39 (2004), pp. 167, 182, 197, 211, 244–45, appendix 1A no. 116, ill. p. 211 and fig. 35 (installation photograph).
Elsbeth Wiemann inDie Entdeckung der Landschaft: Meisterwerke der niederländischen Kunst des 16. & 17. Jahrhunderts. Exh. cat., Staatsgalerie Stuttgart. Cologne, 2005, pp. 127, 136–38, 268, no. 49, ill. (color).
Esmée Quodbach. "The Age of Rembrandt: Dutch Paintings in The Metropolitan Museum of Art." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 65 (Summer 2007), p. 5, fig. 3 (color).
Walter Liedtke. Dutch Paintings in The Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York, 2007, vol. 1, pp. 228–31, 240, 404, 409–10, no. 50, colorpl. 50.
Henk van Os et al. The Discovery of the Netherlands: Four Centuries of Landscape Painting by Dutch Masters. Exh. cat., CODA Museum, Apeldoorn. Rotterdam, 2008, pp. 15, 29, 44–45, ill. (color).
Old Master & British Paintings. Christie's, London. July 3, 2012, p. 34, under no. 9.