Wheatfilelds – Jacob Van Ruisdael


“Of all Dutch painters Ruisdael is the one who resembles his own country most nobly. He has its amplitude, its sadness, its almost gloomy placidity, its monotonous and tranquil charm. In these words Eugène Fromentin, whose contribution to the literature on Dutch art is by far the most valuable, begins the chapter of the Old Masters which is concerned with this artist, whom he ranks next to Rembrandt. Ruisdael was a painter of landscapes only. If a figure was necessary in the pictures, some friend, Adrian van de Velde or another, was called upon for help. In his prime he painted scenes of his native country; in his later years, suffering from the early blight which affected Dutch art, he attempted more sensational subjects, unsuited to his nature torrents, mountain gorges, and the like views for which he utilized the pictures and sketches of other painters.

His colors ‘are generally brown and green with grayish skies. The Wheatfields is not of the usual sort, as the picture is lighted by a streak of sunlight and the colors are appropriate to that effect. He sometimes painted the sea and winter scenes like the little picture which John G. Johnson lent to the Hudson-Fulton Exhibition, but his favorite themes are an undulating country with a winding road, groups of trees, forest scenes, and always wide stretches of sky. No other painter has rendered the sky with such sympathy and understanding.

Little is known of his life except that, like the other great Dutch masters, he died in poverty and neglect. His pictures tell us of the sterling qualities the man possessed : seriousness, probity, thoughtfulness, an austere poetry, virtues often coupled with love of the open country. “Did his fate vouchsafe him other things to love than the clouds?” wonders Fromentin. “And from which suffered he the more, if he suffered, the torment of painting well or the torment of living?” Unlike the work of Rembrandt, in which can be read the desires and disillusionments of his ardent life, Ruisdael’s pictures, our only archives, tell us merely how the painter felt in the presence of the forms of nature which he created.

The Wheatfields was one of four pictures which Mr. Altman acquired out of the Maurice Kann Collection in Paris in 1909 and it was shown at the Hudson-Fulton Exhibition in the same year. It was formerly in the possession of the Comte de Colbert La Place.