This canvas of the mid- to late 1660s depicts a road through grainfields and, in the distance, a village church. Contemporary viewers would have understood immediately the relationships between the rainclouds, the fields, and the mill. The finely detailed painting was owned by the English painter Sir Joshua Reynolds between 1756 and his death in 1792.
In this small and much admired painting, Ruisdael depicts a rugged road through sandy, rolling landscape, with a field of corn or wheat to the right. A man with a stick and sack slung over his shoulder is accompanied by a dog, while a couple walks in the same direction farther along the road. A large windmill and a farmhouse rise above the trees on the left, and in the distance is a church that suggests, by its size, a town of local significance. Bright sun and blue sky appear above the storm clouds, which sweep forward briskly with the wind.
Most of Ruisdael's views of grainfields have been dated to the 1660s and early 1670s. Slive (1981) suggests that The Met's picture dates from a few years later than the closely related composition in the Kunstmuseum Basel, which may be placed fairly confidently in the first half of the 1660s. Thus, the present painting would probably date from the mid- or late 1660s.
The Basel picture shows a road and sandy bank aligned more or less as they are here, a similar grainfield, a different hill with trees more centrally placed, and a view of the sea in the left background with no mill or church in the distance. Comparison of the two pictures reveals how effortlessly Ruisdael composed remarkably realistic landscapes along artful lines, as if the trees, grasses, and other motifs, so finely described on this intimate scale, were so many well-chosen words in a verse of a certain meter. It should be emphasized, however, that the studio process was informed by drawings from nature, and that Ruisdael's landscapes, especially those that are recognizably Dutch, never stray beyond the realm of plausibility. The views of grainfields, for example, are quite consistent in their dunelike topography, types of trees, and frequent glimpses of an inland sea not unlike the Haarlemmer Meer or the Zuider Zee. Similar views were to be found a few miles outside Amsterdam.
In recent years, many of Ruisdael's landscapes have been assigned full programs of iconography, despite the fact that the scale, the exquisite effects, and the serenity of pictures like this one were obviously intended for private appreciation. It is true that grainfields had often been depicted by Netherlandish artists during the hundred years preceding Ruisdael's interest in the subject, and that their association with the seasons, sustenance, labor, and different levels of society (for example, landowners and field workers) made them rich in traditional meanings. Also relevant is Chong's discussion (1987) of grain cultivation and trade in the northern Netherlands, where, after 1650, local production of corn and wheat had become a new (or renewed) and important factor in the national economy. That such an image was complexly evocative, in aesthetic, folkloric, and topical ways, is one of the reasons that a narrow interpretation along ethical lines is inappropriate. The contemporary viewer would have understood immediately that the scene is Dutch, and that the mill, the grainfields, and the rain clouds benefit humankind, which, like nature, is God's creation. There was no need to look for further meaning in such a meaningful work of art.
It appears likely from a description in a sale catalogue of 1838 that this picture was in the collection of Sir Joshua Reynolds. The canvas is identified by Broun (1987) as one of a pair bought by the artist in 1756.
The painting was engraved by Maxime Lalanne (1827–1886). Slive (2001) records an anonymous copy.
[2016; adapted from Liedtke 2007]
Inscription: Signed (lower right): JvRuisdael [initials in monogram]
John De Pesters, London (until 1756; his sale, Prestage, [London], April 1, 1756, no. 10 or 11, both to Reynolds); Sir Joshua Reynolds, London (1756–d. 1792; his estate, 1792–95; his estate sale, Christie's, London, March 17, 1795, no. 46, a pair, for 50 gns. [£52.10.0] to Hardman); William Hardman (from 1795); Thomas Hardman (until 1838; his sale, Winstanley and Sons, Manchester, October 19, 1838, no. 54, for 87 gns. to Edwards); Louis Viardot, Paris (until 1863); Gustave Rothan, Paris (until 1890; his estate sale, Georges Petit, Paris, May 29, 1890, no. 95, for Fr 24,000 to Lehmann); Albert Lehmann, Paris (1890–1925; his sale, Galerie Georges Petit, Paris, June 12, 1925, no. 282, for Fr 210,000 to Kleinberger); [Kleinberger, Paris and New York, from 1925]; Michael Friedsam, New York (by 1928–d. 1931)
London. No. 28 Haymarket. "Ralph's Exhibition of Pictures," 1791, no. 91 or 93 (both as "Landscape," by Ruysdale [sic]).
Paris. Musée de l'Orangerie. "Exposition hollandaise: Tableaux, aquarelles et dessins anciens et modernes," April–May 1921, no. 90 (lent by Albert Lehmann, Paris).
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "The Michael Friedsam Collection," November 15, 1932–April 9, 1933, no catalogue.
New York. World's Fair. "Masterpieces of Art: European & American Paintings, 1500–1900," May–October 1940, no. 90.
Milwaukee Auditorium. "Metropolitan Art Museum $1,000,000 Masterpiece Exhibition," March 7–14, 1953, unnumbered cat. (p. 13).
Austin, Tex. City Coliseum. "Texas Fine Arts Festival: Metropolitan Museum $1,000,000 Collection of Old Masters," April 18–26, 1953, unnum. checklist.
University Art Museum, University of California at Berkeley. "Dutch Masters from The Metropolitan Museum of Art," November 25, 1969–January 4, 1970, checklist no. 13.
Houston. Rice University. "Dutch Masters from The Metropolitan Museum of Art," January 18–March 1, 1970, checklist no. 13.
The Hague. Mauritshuis. "Jacob van Ruisdael," October 1, 1981–January 3, 1982, no. 31.
Cambridge, Mass. Fogg Art Museum. "Jacob van Ruisdael," January 18–April 11, 1982, no. 31.
Amsterdam. Rijksmuseum. "Masters of 17th-Century Dutch Landscape Painting," October 2, 1987–January 3, 1988, no. 83.
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. "Masters of 17th-Century Dutch Landscape Painting," February 3–May 1, 1988, no. 83.
Philadelphia Museum of Art. "Masters of 17th-Century Dutch Landscape Painting," June 5–July 31, 1988, no. 83.
Athens. National Gallery Alexandros Soutzos Museum. "From El Greco to Cézanne: Masterpieces of European Painting from the National Gallery of Art, Washington, and The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York," December 13, 1992–April 11, 1993, no. 18.
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.
Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum. "Earth, Sea, and Sky: Nature in Western Art; Masterpieces from The Metropolitan Museum of Art," October 6, 2012–January 4, 2013, no. 106.
Beijing. National Museum of China. "Earth, Sea, and Sky: Nature in Western Art; Masterpieces from The Metropolitan Museum of Art," February 8–May 9, 2013, no. 106.
John Smith. A Catalogue Raisonné of the Works of the Most Eminent Dutch, Flemish, and French Painters. Vol. 6, London, 1835, p. 28, no. 73 or 74, as a pair of landscapes from the collection of Sir Joshua Reynolds sold in 1795 for 50 gns.
Charles Blanc. Chronique des arts et de la curiosité, supplément à la Gazette des beaux-arts (1863), p. 130, as in the Viardot collection.
Cornelis Hofstede de Groot. A Catalogue Raisonné of the Works of the Most Eminent Dutch Painters of the Seventeenth Century. Ed. Edward G. Hawke. Vol. 4, London, 1912, p. 50, no. 141, as sold at the 1890 Rothan sale for Fr 24,000.
Wilhelm R. Valentiner in The Michael Friedsam Collection. [completed 1928], p. 13, gives provenance and cataloguing information; as engraved by Maxime Lalanne.
Jakob Rosenberg. Jacob van Ruisdael. Berlin, 1928, pp. 77, 116, no. 87, as in the Friedsam collection.
"Friedsam Bequest to be Exhibited Next November." Art News 30 (January 2, 1932), p. 13, prints Bryson Burroughs's survey of the Friedsam paintings.
Wolfgang Stechow. Dutch Landscape Painting of the Seventeenth Century. London, 1966, p. 29, fig. 37, dates it to the 1660s.
Seymour Slive. Jacob van Ruisdael. Exh. cat., Mauritshuis, The Hague. New York, 1981, pp. 94, 96–97, no. 31, ill. (color), compares it with an "autograph variant" in the Öffentliche Kunstsammlungen, Basel (inv. 924; Rosenberg 1928, no. 72) which he dates to the early 1660s, dating the MMA work to a few years later.
Alan Chong inMasters of 17th-Century Dutch Landscape Painting. Exh. cat., Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam. Boston, 1987, pp. 445–48, no. 83, ill. p. 445 and colorpl. 99, dates it to the 1660s; analyzes the subject.
Peter C. Sutton inMasters of 17th-Century Dutch Landscape Painting. Exh. cat., Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam. Boston, 1987, pp. 8, 51.
Francis Broun. "Sir Joshua Reynolds' Collection of Paintings." PhD diss., Princeton University, 1987, vol. 1, p. 135; vol. 2, pp. 74–76, identifies it as having belonged to Joshua Reynolds and provides the provenance prior to Viardot.
Walter Liedtke. "Dutch Paintings in America: The Collectors and Their Ideals." Great Dutch Paintings from America. Exh. cat., Mauritshuis, The Hague. Zwolle, The Netherlands, 1990, p. 52.
Josine M. Eikelenboom Smits. "The Architectural Landscapes of Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot." PhD diss., Stanford University, 1991, vol. 1, p. 328; vol. 2, fig. 305, uses it as an example of a compositional type that influenced Corot.
E. John Walford. Jacob van Ruisdael and the Perception of Landscape. New Haven, 1991, p. 149, fig. 154, as "Country Road with Cornfields"; dates it to the 1660s.
Deborah Krohn et al. inFrom El Greco to Cézanne: Masterpieces of European Painting from the National Gallery of Art, Washington, and The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. Exh. cat., National Gallery Alexandros Soutzos Museum. Athens, 1992, p. 307, no. 18, ill. (color) [catalogue section unpaginated], dates it about 1665.
Peter C. Sutton. Dutch & Flemish Seventeenth-Century Paintings: The Harold Samuel Collection. Cambridge, 1992, pp. 170, 172 n. 6.
Seymour Slive. Jacob van Ruisdael: A Complete Catalogue of His Paintings, Drawings and Etchings. New Haven, 2001, pp. 113, 124, no. 100, ill.
Seymour Slive. Jacob van Ruisdael: Master of Landscape. Exh. cat., Los Angeles County Museum of Art. London, 2005, pp. 25–26, 263 n. 58, fig. 31 (color).
Esmée Quodbach. "The Age of Rembrandt: Dutch Paintings in The Metropolitan Museum of Art." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 65 (Summer 2007), p. 38.
Walter Liedtke. Dutch Paintings in The Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York, 2007, vol. 2, pp. 792–95, no. 181, colorpl. 181, dates it to the mid- or late 1660s.
Walter Liedtke inEarth, Sea, and Sky: Nature in Western Art; Masterpieces from The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Exh. cat., Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum. [Tokyo], 2012, p. 252, no. 106, ill. [Chinese ed., Hefei Shi, 2013, pp. 234–35, no. 106, ill. (color, overall and detail)].
Peter Barnet and Wendy A. Stein inEarth, Sea, and Sky: Nature in Western Art; Masterpieces from The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Exh. cat., Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum. [Tokyo], 2012, p. 168, ill. pp. 37, 170–71 (color, overall and detail).
Artist: Jacob van Ruisdael (Dutch, Haarlem 1628/29–1682 Amsterdam)Date: 1650–55Medium: Black chalk; brush and gray wash; gouache; framing lines in pen and brown ink.Accession: 1995.196On view in:Not on view