Against a wintry sky and bare branches, this village road becomes the setting for a cruel pastime: a live eel strung on a line is plucked down by young people charging past on horseback. The contest provides the pretext for a festive gathering, allowing Ruysdael to combine his eye for local color with an evocation of limpid winter light and its reflection in the frozen skating pond below.
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Title:Drawing the Eel
Artist:Salomon van Ruysdael (Dutch, Naarden, born ca. 1600–1603, died 1670 Haarlem)
Medium:Oil on wood
Dimensions:29 1/2 x 41 3/4 in. (74.9 x 106 cm)
Credit Line:Purchase, 1871
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 Met's 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, 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 The Met)
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.
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "In Praise of Painting: Dutch Masterpieces at The Met," October 16, 2018–October 4, 2020, 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]. "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, 61–62], 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".
Josephine L. Allen and Elizabeth E. Gardner. A Concise Catalogue of the European Paintings in The Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York, 1954, p. 88.
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., enl. 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 inMasters 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. European Paintings in The Metropolitan Museum of Art by Artists Born Before 1865: A Summary Catalogue. New York, 1995, p. 309, ill.
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 inCelebrating in the Golden Age. Ed. Anna Tummers. Exh. cat., Frans Hals Museum, Haarlem. Rotterdam, 2011, p. 66, under no. 7.
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