Salomon van Ruysdael (Dutch, Naarden, born ca. 1600–1603, died 1670 Haarlem)
Oil on wood
20 1/4 x 33 in. (51.4 x 83.8 cm)
Not on view
This painting, although now unsigned, is certainly by Ruysdael. It combines a view of Alkmaar from the west with an invented river view, and may date from somewhat earlier than the mid-1650s, the period suggested in Stechow's (1938) monograph; in design and execution, it recalls river scenes of the late 1640s and early 1650s.
Views of Alkmaar have often been confused with views of Haarlem because of the general resemblance between the two cities' Grote Kerken and because Dutch painters frequently modified the proportions and details of architectural monuments for artistic reasons. However, The Met's picture was already called a view of Alkmaar by Ruysdael when it was acquired in the 1871 Purchase, and Stechow (1938) considered the church depicted here similar to the one in Alkmaar, partly on the basis of views of the city painted by the artist in the 1650s. The profile of the Late Gothic Grote or Sint Laurenskerk (built 1470–1512) presented in the New York panel is perhaps somewhat misleading, since the view from the west shows the west or main entrance façade in front of the western elevation of the transept. The long nave is almost completely obscured as it recedes behind the west façade, and of course the choir is invisible. In a view from the north, as in Ruysdael's View of Alkmaar with the Sint Laurenskerk from the North, dated 1644 (private collection), one gains a more complete idea of the church as a whole, with the choir to the left, the nave to the right, and the northern transept arm playing a subordinate part in between. Comparisons with the Laurenskerk today must also take into account that a taller crossing tower with a carillon was built in the 1680s.
The spire seen to the right in the present painting is that of the Grote Kerk's freestanding bell tower. The two smaller churches visible just to the left, one with a round or onion-shaped crown on its bell tower and the other with a simple spire, no longer exist, but they were identified by the Regionaal Archief in Alkmaar as belonging to monasteries closed in the late sixteenth century. The small churches are seen from a very different angle in the painting dated 1644, and in a version of that composition, dated 1647, in the National Gallery of Ireland, Dublin. Visible to the far right on the riverbank are a standard mill (similar to one that actually existed) and what would appear to be (and should be, given the location) the cities southern gate, called the Kennemerpoort (built in 1631–32), and an adjacent gabled house with a slim tower.
Plans of Alkmaar show that canals, or singels (girdles), on the west side of Alkmaar do recede diagonally to the right in views from the west (as here) and from the north-northeast. However, these actual waterways bear no resemblance to the rivers seen in Ruysdael's various views of Alkmaar. Similar riverbanks are found frequently in his oeuvre, with both real and imaginary buildings beyond them.
The panel dated 1644, the Dublin version of 1647, and The Met’s picture are probably the earliest views of Alkmaar painted by Ruysdael, who returned to the subject in the 1650s and 1660s. The city was a fairly short trip to the north of Haarlem, where the artist lived, and it is possible that he went there a number of times. Ruysdael is known to have visited Alkmaar in 1644 because of the death of his brother Pieter de Goyer early in that year, and his subsequent appointment as guardian of Goyer's three daughters.
While Ruysdael's views of Alkmaar may be placed among his many river scenes with old forts, castles, churches, and so on, his contemporaries would have associated the cityscape with certain historical events. The Grote Kerk, for example, was the burial place not only of the artist's brother but also of Count Floris V of Holland (died 1296), the nobleman from whom the most prominent Catholic family in Haarlem, the Haarlem van Berkenrodes, received Berkenrode Castle. Alkmaar was more generally known for withstanding the siege of 1573 by the Spanish troops that had captured Haarlem. The deliberate flooding of the land around the ramparts of Alkmaar turned the tide in Holland's war of independence against Spain.
[2016; adapted from Liedtke 2007]
[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 Age of Rembrandt: Dutch Paintings in The Metropolitan Museum of Art," September 18, 2007–January 6, 2008, no catalogue.
Museum of the City of New York. "Amsterdam/New Amsterdam: The Worlds of Henry Hudson," April 4–September 27, 2009, no catalogue.
Louis Decamps. "Un musée transatlantique (2e article)." Gazette des beaux-arts, 2nd ser., 5 (May 1872), p. 435.
[Henry James]. "Art: The Dutch and Flemish Pictures in New York." Atlantic Monthly 29 (June 1872), pp. 760–61 [reprinted in John L. Sweeney, ed., "The Painter's Eye," London, 1956, pp. 59, 61].
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.
Wolfgang Stechow. Salomon van Ruysdael: Eine Einführung in seine Kunst. Berlin, 1938, pp. 115–16, no. 401, dates it to the mid-1650s and calls the church similar to the one at Alkmaar.
Wolfgang Stechow. "Salomon van Ruysdael's Paintings in America." Art Quarterly 2 (1939), pp. 258, 264 n. 11, fig. 5, dates it to the early 1650s.
Wolfgang Stechow. Salomon van Ruysdael: Eine Einführung in seine Kunst. 2nd, rev., expanded ed. Berlin, 1975, p. 131, no. 401.
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. 155, 157 n. 13, fig. 2, dates it about 1645; compares it with a painting (sold Christie's, London, July 10, 1987, no. 44) by Ruysdael dated 1644 showing the same church from a different vantage point, calling the two works Ruysdael's earliest and most faithful views of Alkmaar.
Katharine Baetjer. "Buying Pictures for New York: The Founding Purchase of 1871." Metropolitan Museum Journal 39 (2004), pp. 181, 197, 219, 245, appendix 1A no. 151, ill.
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.
Walter Liedtke. Dutch Paintings in The Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York, 2007, vol. 2, pp. 812–14, no. 187, colorpl. 187.