Born in London, Molijn joined the painter's guild at Haarlem in 1616. Together with his slightly younger contemporaries, Jan van Goyen and Salomon van Ruysdael, he established the new tonal landscape style that became characteristic of the Haarlem school. Molijn's best work dates from around 1626 to 1629. This picture illustrates his deft application of Baroque compositional devices to local topography.
This panel of 1629 is one of the most accomplished pictures of Molijn's early period (1625–31). As in the celebrated Dune Landscape of 1626 (Herzog Anton Ulrich-Museum, Braunschweig), and paintings of 1627–28, the artist's subject is a rugged road through countryside near the Dutch coast. The route recedes from the lower left to a sunny area behind the shadowy rise on the right, and then winds past farm buildings and over a hill, where three travelers make their way. The figures (one with a walking stick) lead the eye into the distance, toward the mast-like beacon on the horizon to the right. Another man works on the side of the barn, next to a stack of poles probably intended to hold down roof thatching. The very low roof to the right is the top of a hayrick, which protects hay from rain and can be raised or lowered on corner posts.
Molijn's contemporaries would have recognized at a glance the rolling dune landscape west of Haarlem, where trees and bushes stubbornly survive in the sandy soil. Turning the distinctive terrain to artistic advantage, Molijn compares the dense vegetation to the left with the smooth, swirling patches of grass and barren earth in the middle ground. The contrasts of textures and of green and tan tones are skillfully rendered, and the whole surges to a crest like a wave at sea.
While inspired by the environs of Haarlem, celebrated by writers and printmakers of the time, the picture conveys less topographical fact than poetic evocation. Comparison with Molijn's etchings dating from 1626 and slightly later and with other compositions of about 1627-29 by Molijn, Van Goyen, and Salomon van Ruysdael reveals that the pattern employed here is an example of an early Baroque scheme repeatedly imposed upon the local landscape during a brief period of three or four years. Although these Haarlem colleagues found inspiration in woodcuts by Hendrick Goltzius (1558–1617), drawings by Esaias van de Velde (1587–1630), and engravings after artists such as Abraham Bloemaert and Claes Jansz Visscher (1587–1652), they may be credited with defining some of the most durable conventions of landscape painting in the 1620s and 1630s.
Pictures of peasant cottages flourished in the Netherlands during the early seventeenth century, especially in Haarlem, Amsterdam, and Utrecht. Of the values that have been cited in connection with this development, including local and national pride, esteem of God's Creation, and admiration of life on the land, the last sentiment—which ultimately derives from classical poetry—seems among the most relevant to images of this kind. In 1597, a Dutch translation of Virgil's Bucolics and Georgics by the Haarlem artist and author Karel van Mander (1548–1606) was published with the subtitle Ossen-stal en Landt-werck (Ox Stall and Land Work). Molijn's idea of “land work” falls within the same tradition of depicting agrarian occupations from a distant, indeed urban, point of view.
Infrared reflectography reveals careful underdrawing throughout the composition, except in the sky. All the main lines of the landscape are indicated, while the buildings are merely outlined. The trees and bushes are most completely described. No departures from the sketched composition are evident.
[2017; adapted from Liedtke 2007]
Inscription: Signed and dated (lower left): PMoLyn [initials in monogram] / 1629
F. T. Robinson, Boston (sold to Marquand); Henry G. Marquand, New York (until 1895)
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