The Pelkus Gate near Utrecht

Jan van Goyen (Dutch, Leiden 1596–1656 The Hague)
Oil on wood
14 1/2 x 22 1/2 in. (36.8 x 57.2 cm)
Frame, 23 1/4 x 31 x 2 3/4 in. (59.1 x 78.7 x 7 cm)
Credit Line:
Gift of Francis Neilson, 1945
Accession Number:
Not on view
About a dozen paintings by Van Goyen feature some form of the once familiar Pelkus gate (erected 1371), a freestanding tower on the tow-path of the river Vecht. The setting is always invented and the monument treated as a picturesque haven for birds.
Pale yellows set off the tower and model the cumulus clouds in this blue and green river view, one of perhaps a dozen paintings by Van Goyen that feature some form of the once familiar Pelkus Gate near Utrecht. The surroundings and the other structures vary greatly in this group of pictures, suggesting that (as in literally hundreds of river views with imaginary architectural elements) the artist freely invented all but the main motif in each composition.

The Pelkus Gate, or Pellekussenpoort (erected 1371), was a freestanding tower on the towpath of the river Vecht between Utrecht and Muiden on the Zuiderzee. The villages of Zuilen and Weert were nearby. According to the text of Abraham Rademaker's Kabinet van Nederlandsche en Kleefsche Outheden (Cabinet of Antique Monuments in the Netherlands and Cleve; 1732), the gate "belonged in former times to the old Pellekussen family, so that this gate is now commonly called the Pelkuspoort . . . of which nothing remains today." In Van Goyen's time the Vecht was already what it is now, a meandering, canal-size waterway celebrated for picturesque views of old castles, country houses, and villages.

A recently published drawing by Van Goyen (private collection; see Liedtke 2007, fig. 62) shows the site of the Pelkus Gate from approximately the same direction as in The Met's painting, where the building itself has been arbitrarily turned clockwise ninety degrees. The actual alignment of the gate tower is seen in Rademaker's prints and in an anonymous drawing of about 1580–1600 (Gemeentearchief, Utrecht). The latter and Van Goyen's drawing, however different in style, were both evidently recorded from life, from different angles across the Vecht. In the New York painting, Van Goyen has slimmed and simplified the gate tower, and added vertical accents to the step gable. It should be emphasized that the entire site bears little resemblance to the actual Vecht, which was narrow and lined with low buildings on both sides. Apart from a couple of houses at the water's edge, the other buildings are common types set down on sloping land (which is actually flat) where no such structures existed. The invented motifs include the farm building to the left, the church, the manor house with flying flags, and a second gate tower on the riverbank.

A copy of The Met's picture, attributed to the eighteenth-century Dordrecht painter Abraham van Strij (1753–1826), was on the art market in 1982.

[2016; adapted from Liedtke 2007]
Inscription: Signed and dated (on boat): VG 1646
?Graf Luckner, Altfranken, Dresden (in 1889); private collection, Berlin; [Galerie Van Diemen, Berlin, until 1921; sold to Neilson]; Francis Neilson, Chicago (1921–45)
Leipziger Kunstverein. "Ältere Meister aus sächsischem Privatbesitz," mid-September–November ?, 1889, no. 87 (as "Flusslandschaft, links über dem Wasser ein alter Thurm, im Mittelgrund eine Kirche," lent by Herr Graf Luckner auf Altfranken, probably this picture).

Sarasota. John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art. "Time and Transformation in Seventeenth-Century Dutch Art," August 20–October 30, 2005, not in catalogue.

Louisville. J. B. Speed Art Museum. "Time and Transformation in Seventeenth-Century Dutch Art," January 10–March 26, 2006, not in catalogue.

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.

C. Hofstede de Groot. A Catalogue Raisonné of the Works of the Most Eminent Dutch Painters of the Seventeenth Century. Ed. Edward G. Hawke. Vol. 8, London, 1927, p. 200, no. 789, as no. 87 in the 1889 Leipzig exhibition, probably this picture.

Anna Dobrzycka. Jan van Goyen, 1596–1656. Poznan, Poland, 1966, fig. 67.

Wolfgang Stechow. Dutch Landscape Painting of the Seventeenth Century. London, 1966, p. 56, fig. 103.

Hans-Ulrich Beck. Jan van Goyen, 1596–1656. Vol. 2, Katalog der Gemälde. Amsterdam, 1973, p. 344, no. 765, ill.

Hans-Ulrich Beck. Jan van Goyen, 1596–1656. Vol. 3, Ergänzungen zum Katalog der Handzeichnungen und Ergänzungen zum Katalog der Gemälde. Doornspijk, The Netherlands, 1987, p. 233, no. 765, records a copy sold in Monte Carlo on December 12, 1982, no. 155, ill., attributed to Abraham van Strij.

Jos de Meyere. Utrecht op Schilderijen. Utrecht, 1988, p. 95, fig. 33.

Olivier Le Bihan. L'Or & l'ombre: catalogue critique et raisonné des peintures hollandaises du dix-septième et du dix-huitième siècles, conservées au Musée des Beaux-Arts de Bordeaux. Bordeaux, 1990, pp. 120–21 n. 7, ill., under no. 29.

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. 156–57 n. 31, fig. 6.

Walter Liedtke. Dutch Paintings in The Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York, 2007, vol. 1, pp. 232–36, 500, no. 51, colorpl. 51; vol. 2, p. 934.