Art/ Collection/ Collection/ Art Object

Drawing the Eel

Artist:
Salomon van Ruysdael (Dutch, Naarden, born ca. 1600–1603, died 1670 Haarlem)
Date:
early 1650s
Medium:
Oil on wood
Dimensions:
29 1/2 x 41 3/4 in. (74.9 x 106 cm)
Classification:
Paintings
Credit Line:
Purchase, 1871
Accession Number:
71.75
On view at The Met Fifth Avenue in Gallery 638
This picture of a village entertainment on a crisp winter day is one of the finest of the 174 paintings acquired in the Museum’s founding 1871 Purchase. The eel or herring dangling from a line strung from tavern to tree is the slippery target of couples charging by on horseback. Since at least the time of Pieter Bruegel the Elder in the 1560s, country pleasures were a subject enjoyed by urban art collectors.
One of the finest paintings acquired by the Museum in its founding purchase of 1871, this work illustrates a village entertainment on a clear winter day. So many details divert the eye that the sky might be overlooked, although it fills about three-quarters of the picture surface and includes, in its wonderfully well-preserved paint layer, lovely passages of blue streaked by fair-weather clouds and reflected sunlight.

The unfortunate creature (it could be something other than an eel) is strung on a rope that extends from one of the delicately silhouetted trees at left to the upper window of the inn. The establishment's sign shows a half-length portrait of a man with a sash, suggesting that the inn is called The Prince; a flag announces the festival. Social historians have yet to document the history of palingtrekken (eel pulling) and its variations, such as riding at the herring and pulling the cat. These amusements were depicted by Philips Wouwermans (1619–1668) and other artists at about the same time. Van Ruysdael himself painted the subject in 1633 or 1635 (art market, 2005), employing a composition that anticipates the general design of this work. The MMA picture's taller format and more colorful palette, however, are hallmarks of the 1650s and 1660s.

The signature and date are barely visible at the bottom center of the picture. In 1909, Valentiner recorded the date as 165[0], precisely as it is legible now. A date of about 1650 or the early 1650s is completely expected within the context of the artist's oeuvre.

[2011; adapted from Liedtke 2007]
Inscription: Signed and dated (lower center): SvR [vR in monogram] / 165[ ]
Johan van der Linden van Slingeland, Dordrecht (until 1785; his sale, Dordrecht, August 22ff, 1785, no. 350, for fl. 353 or 355 to Reynst); sale, J. Dintl and others, Vienna, November 23, 1869, no. 141, for fl. 3,000, bought in; [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. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "The Hudson-Fulton Celebration," September–November 1909, no. 121 (as "Winter Scene").

New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Landscape Paintings," May 14–September 30, 1934, no. 19.

Hartford, Conn. Wadsworth Atheneum. "Life in Seventeenth Century Holland," November 21, 1950–January 14, 1951, no. 27.

Dayton Art Institute. "The City by the River and the Sea: Five Centuries of Skylines," April 18–June 3, 1951, no. 31.

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.

Louis Decamps. "Un musée transatlantique (2e article)." Gazette des beaux-arts, 2nd ser., 5 (May 1872), p. 435, as "Kermesse hollandaise pendant l'hiver".

Henry James. "The Metropolitan Museum's '1871 Purchase'." Atlantic Monthly (June 1872) [reprinted in John L. Sweeney, ed., "The Painter's Eye," London, 1956, pp. 59, 61–62], as "A Kermesse".

Emil Kegel. "Berichte und Mittheilungen aus Sammlungen und Museen, über staatliche Kunstpflege und Restaurationen, neue Funde: New-York, das Metropolitan-Museum." Repertorium für Kunstwissenschaft 7 (1884), p. 460.

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.

Wilhelm R. Valentiner. The Hudson-Fulton Celebration: Catalogue of an Exhibition Held in The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Exh. cat., The Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York, 1909, vol. 1, p. 122, no. 121, ill. opp. p. 122, as "Winter Scene"; reads the date as "165–"; erroneously as on canvas.

Joseph Breck. "L'art hollandais à l'exposition Hudson-Fulton à New York." L'art flamand & hollandais 13, no. 2 (1910), p. 59 [published in Dutch in Onze Kunst 17 (February 1910), p. 45].

Wolfgang Stechow. Salomon van Ruysdael: Eine Einführung in seine Kunst. Berlin, 1938, pp. 25, 68, no. 5, as "Palingtrekken"; reads the date as 1650; includes provenance information.

Wolfgang Stechow. "Salomon van Ruysdael's Paintings in America." Art Quarterly 2 (1939), pp. 258–59, 264 n. 16, fig. 6, as "Drawing the Eel".

Wolfgang Stechow. Dutch Landscape Painting of the Seventeenth Century. London, 1966, p. 99.

Wolfgang Stechow. Salomon van Ruysdael: Eine Einführung in seine Kunst. 2nd, rev., expanded ed. Berlin, 1975, pp. 25, 68, no. 5, fig. 46.

Evert van Straaten. Koud tot op het bot. The Hague, 1977, p. 117, fig. 154.

Peter C. Sutton. A Guide to Dutch Art in America. Grand Rapids, Mich., 1986, p. 191, states that it is dated 1650.

Peter C. Sutton in Masters of 17th-Century Dutch Landscape Painting. Exh. cat., Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam. Boston, 1987, pp. 529–31, ill., under no. 120, compares it with "Riding at the Herring" (private collection) by Wouwermans of about 1650.

Katharine Baetjer. "Buying Pictures for New York: The Founding Purchase of 1871." Metropolitan Museum Journal 39 (2004), pp. 181, 197, 209, appendix 1A no. 110, ill. p. 209 and figs. 31 (floor plan), 34 (installation photograph), 38.

Esmée Quodbach. "The Age of Rembrandt: Dutch Paintings in The Metropolitan Museum of Art." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 65 (Summer 2007), pp. 5–7, 28, fig. 2 (color).

Walter Liedtke. Dutch Paintings in The Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York, 2007, vol. 1, p. 20; vol. 2, pp. 816–18, no. 189, colorpl. 189, fig. 235 (infrared reflectogram mosaic detail), dates it to about 1650 or the early 1650s.

Jasper Hillegers in Celebrating in the Golden Age. Ed. Anna Tummers. Exh. cat., Frans Hals Museum, Haarlem. Rotterdam, 2011, p. 66, under no. 7.



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