Ruysdael has a reputation for inventing topography, but this canvas depicts a largely faithful view of Gorinchem (Gorcum) from the south. The artist's viewpoint was on a spit of land called Buiten de Waterpoort, along the river de Merwede. The 197-foot tower of the Great Church is seen through the trees, while a windmill, ramparts, and identifiable buildings recede in the right background. Travellers at an inn and in a fishing-cum-ferry boat enliven the scene. Ruysdael lived well to the north in Haarlem, but he was part-owner of a mill in Gorinchem and in 1643 and 1644 painted landscapes incorporating parts of the local castle of Loevestein.
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Title:Ferry near Gorinchem
Artist:Salomon van Ruysdael (Dutch, Naarden, born ca. 1600–1603, died 1670 Haarlem)
Medium:Oil on canvas
Dimensions:41 7/8 x 52 1/2 in. (106.4 x 133.4 cm)
Credit Line:Bequest of Maria DeWitt Jesup, from the collection of her husband, Morris K. Jesup, 1914
In this typical example of Ruysdael's river views dating from the middle years of the century, the majestic Sint Jans Tower of the Grote Kerk in Gorinchem (also Gorcum or Gorkum) is framed by foliage and buttressed visually by the chimney and roofline of a small country inn. The tower is seen from the south. The smaller spire, just to the right and behind the main spire, crowns the stair tower on the north side of the bell tower. The three-story tower was built in the 1400s, though not completed until 1517 with the erection of the eight-sided spire, which brought the total height to 197 feet. Ruysdael shows most of the top two stories. The original church (pulled down in 1844 and replaced in 1849–51) rose no higher than the western tower's first story, and is screened by trees in Ruysdael's picture. The artist faithfully describes such distinctive features as the octagonal base of the spire, the louvered openings of the belfry, the telescoping ascent of the corner buttresses, and one of the clocks, which indicates that it is shortly before ten or eleven in the morning. The entire foreground of the picture is devoted to vignettes of local travel.
Despite Ruysdael's reputation for fanciful topography, all the buildings in the right background correspond to Gorinchem's south side, where the river De Merwede is joined by the smaller Linge at the Waterpoort (gateway to the Lingehaven, a canal in the heart of the city where ships unloaded freight and fish). Ruysdael's fidelity to the actual site accounts for the ungainly arrangement of building blocks behind the quay. The artist's viewpoint was on the spit of land called the Buiten de Waterpoort. In a view of Gorinchem painted by Allart van Everdingen (1621–1675) (private collection, The Netherlands), Ruysdael's fishing-cum-ferryboats may be imagined next to the two sailboats by the steep bank at center left. A drawing said to be by Gerbrand van den Eeckhout (Frits Lugt Collection, Paris) brings the same view much closer, so that one can make out the balconied Tolhuis (Toll House, 1598). The same structure appears behind the man feeding the horses in Ruysdael's picture.
The rendering of the architecture in the area of the mills and ramparts seems equally faithful, to judge from a panoramic drawing of Gorinchem from the south-southeast made about 1665–70 by the well-connected local artist Jacob van der Ulft (1627–1689) (Stadsarchief, Gorinchem). Ruysdael's vantage point was somewhat out of Van der Ulft's view to the left. The mill to the far left in the drawing is probably the nearest one in Ruysdael's view. The small house on lower ground in the drawing coincides with the roof and lantern seen to the right of Ruysdael's horse and rider on the quay. The two small towers that are seen sharply receding beyond the low house in the painting (this is clear only from a firsthand examination of the abraded canvas) are corner towers on a fortified wall, the one to the right of the house in the drawing. The tallest house above the fortress in the drawing is the one with the dark roof and near chimney in the painting; the two adjoining buildings look very different from the painter's low position some seventy degrees west of Van der Ulft's. Finally, the more distant mill in the painting (just to the left of the nearest fortress tower) must be that on the right in the drawing. The castle seen in the haze upriver is Loevestein, which is just east of Gorinchem where the Waal and the Maas rivers meet.
At least one other view of Gorinchem was painted by Ruysdael, a small marine of 1650 in which a sailboat in the left foreground and the Sint Jans Tower in the right background are the only forms rising much above the horizon. The view is from the east and shows Gorinchem as the artist might have seen it on the way back from Nijmegen, the fortified city up the river Waal, which he made the subject of some memorable paintings dating from about 1647–52. Pictures by Ruysdael dated 1643 and 1644 incorporate motifs from the castle of Loevestein. These South Holland locations were places that would have attracted any Dutch artist with an interest in picturesque views or national history. Ruysdael was part-owner of a mill in Gorinchem, but this is less certain evidence that he visited the city than are paintings like the one in The Met’s collection. A smaller version of this composition, on panel, recently came to light (private collection, Boston). Monogrammed and dated 1649, the picture simplifies the topography and adjusts the view to a broader format.
[2016; adapted from Liedtke 2007]
Inscription: Signed and dated (lower center, on boat): S.vRvysdael [vR in monogram] 164
E. Secrétan, Paris (until 1889; his sale, Galerie Sedelmeyer, Paris, July 1ff., 1889, no. 161, as "The Banks of the Meuse," for Fr 5,300 to Sedelmeyer); [Sedelmeyer, Paris, from 1889]; Morris K. Jesup, New York (until d. 1908); Mrs. Morris K. (Maria DeWitt) Jesup, New York (1908–d. 1914)
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "The Hudson-Fulton Celebration," September–November 1909, no. 119 (as "Canal Scene," lent by Mrs. Morris K. Jesup, New York).
Wooster, Ohio. Josephine Long Wishart Museum of Art. "Exhibition of Paintings of French, Italian, Dutch, Flemish and German Masters, lent by The Metropolitan Museum of Art," October 20–December 15, 1944, unnumbered cat. (p. 10).
Allentown, Pa. Allentown Art Museum. "Seventeenth Century Painters of Haarlem," April 2–June 13, 1965, no. 70 (as "Ferry near Gorcum").
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.
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. 120, no. 119, ill. opp. p. 120, as "Canal Scene," lent by Mrs. Morris K. Jesup; reads date as 1640.
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].
B[ryson]. B[urroughs]. "European Paintings in the Jesup Collection." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 10 (May 1915), p. 88, ill. p. 91, as "Haarlem, Holland"; reads date as 1640.
Wolfgang Stechow. Salomon van Ruysdael: Eine Einführung in seine Kunst. Berlin, 1938, p. 108, no. 349, reads date as [in translation] "1646? (last digit uncertain; also wrongly read as 1640)"; tentatively identifies the church tower as that at Gorcum [Gorinchem].
Wolfgang Stechow. "Salomon van Ruysdael's Paintings in America." Art Quarterly 2 (1939), p. 264 n. 12, compares it to "View of the Town of Alkmaar" (MMA, 71.135).
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. Salomon van Ruysdael: Eine Einführung in seine Kunst. 2nd, rev., enl. ed. Berlin, 1975, p. 121, no. 349.
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. 154–55, 157 n. 18, fig. 4, identifes the tower as the Sint Jans tower of the Great Church at Gorinchem.
Katharine Baetjer. European Paintings in The Metropolitan Museum of Art by Artists Born Before 1865: A Summary Catalogue. New York, 1995, p. 309, ill.
Walter Liedtke. Dutch Paintings in The Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York, 2007, vol. 2, pp. 805–9, no. 185, colorpl. 185, fig. 231 (color detail).
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