Van der Neer’s preoccupation with light effects in nature led him to paint dozens of nocturnal views. In this case the warm light of a forge and a bonfire set off the cool glow and reflections of the moon.
This dark painting represents a blacksmith's shop at the edge of a river, with a wooded area at the opposite side. The moon is low in the sky, which is brighter above; it must be late in the day. The smithy hammers at an anvil next to a flaming forge. A horse stands in an exterior stall, where a man, presumably the horse's owner, seems to huddle in the cool evening air. To the right, a man and two boys warm themselves by a blazing fire. Logs lie side by side in the foreground; the large basket nearby may have been used to gather kindling.
Nocturnal landscapes were a popular subject of Dutch painters and printmakers from about 1620 onward, and were inspired in part by the well-known engravings of Hendrick Goudt (1583–1648) after Adam Elsheimer (1578–1610). The Flight into Egypt, Goudt's print dated 1613, anticipates this and similar paintings by Van der Neer in its virtuoso study of various light sources, including the moon and a campfire.
Most Dutch nocturnes were painted in the area of Haarlem and Amsterdam, and it was in the latter city that Van der Neer and Rafael Govertsz Camphuysen (1598/1606–1657) each produced a series of moonlit landscapes during the second half of the 1640s and later. There is evidence that Camphuysen painted this kind of picture some years earlier than Van der Neer, but the two artists appear to have had a reciprocal relationship around midcentury, with Van der Neer devoting far more time to night scenes. His nocturnes are also much subtler in their observation of light effects and in the use of light and shade to create an expansive sense of space. In this regard, Van der Neer seems very much a painter of the 1650s and a contemporary of Pieter de Hooch, Emanuel de Witte, and Aelbert Cuyp.
Van der Neer painted more than a hundred night scenes, about two dozen of them with burning buildings or villages. The motifs vary greatly, and none of the other known pictures closely resembles this one. In both subject and scale, the smithy is exceptional in Van der Neer's oeuvre, and pentimenti reveal that the structure was considerably modified in the course of work. Other Dutch artists painted farrier's shops at about the same time (for example, Paulus Potter's panel of 1648 in the National Gallery of Art, Washington), but few of them reveal a comparable interest in effects of light.
Schulz (2002) dates this painting to the early 1650s. The work is clearly mature; the comparatively broad handling of the trees and sky differs from the more conventionalized description found in most works of the 1640s. At the same time, the quality of execution and structured design of the picture would dissuade one from placing it about 1660 or later. The work probably dates from the early to mid-1650s.
[2017; adapted from Liedtke 2007]
Inscription: Signed (lower left): AV DN [monogram]
[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. 67.
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Landscape Paintings," May 14–September 30, 1934, no. 21.
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "The Painter's Light," October 5–November 10, 1971, no. 24.
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.
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, as a good, signed example.
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. 68, no. 67, ill. opp. p. 68.
C[ornelis]. Hofstede de Groot. A Catalogue Raisonné of the Works of the Most Eminent Dutch Painters of the Seventeenth Century. Ed. Edward G. Hawke. Vol. 7, London, 1923, p. 385, no. 244, as "Moonlit Landscape with a Smithy".
Bryson Burroughs. Landscape Paintings. Exh. cat., The Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York, 1934, p. 16, no. 21.
John Walsh Jr. The Painter's Light. Exh. cat., The Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York, 1971, p. 11, no. 24, dates it about 1660.
Katharine Baetjer. "Buying Pictures for New York: The Founding Purchase of 1871." Metropolitan Museum Journal 39 (2004), pp. 197, 220, 245, appendix 1A no. 156, ill.
Walter Liedtke. Dutch Paintings in The Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York, 2007, vol. 1, pp. 506–8, no. 129, colorpl. 129, dates it to the early or mid-1650s.