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Jacob Isaacsz. van Ruisdael View of the Hekelveld, Amsterdam, in Winter, looking south to the Nieuwezijdsvoorburgwal on the left and the Nieuwezijdsachterburgwal on the right, with the Tower of the City Hall and the Spire of the Nieuwe Kerk beyond
Exhibited By
Oil on canvas
49.5 x 65 cm (19.5 x 25.6 in.)
Additional Information

With its monumental composition constructed around a tall central building, dramatic contrasts of light and shade, threatening sky and feathery treatment of details such as the new fallen snow, the present work may be compared to the Village in Winter (Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam, inv. A349; see Stechow 1966, fig. 191), which is usually dated to the early or mid-1660s (Jacob van Ruisdael, Exhibition Catalogue, Mauritshuis, The Hague, 1981-2 cat. 49, illustrated; and Slive, op. cit., p. 469, no. 662). The present painting may have been executed a few years later.

Ruisdael’s winter scenes often achieve a power and majesty which belie their intimate scale. As Stechow observed (W. Stechow, The Winter Landscape in the History of Art, Criticism, 1, 1960, pp. 487-8 and op. cit., 1966, pp. 96-7), these landscapes constitute the culmination of the winter scene as a painting type in Dutch art. They eschew the gaiety of earlier works by Hendrick Avercamp and Aert van der Neer, the milder climes of van Goyen, as well as the elegance of Jan van de Cappelle, seeking instead an unprecedented grandeur and drama. Yet, notwithstanding such details as the strong shaft of light which brightens the gabled brick buildings on the left, contrasting so forcefully with the deep and velvety moleskin grey shadows on the right, Ruisdael’s winter scenes are never grandiloquent or theatrical. Their glowering mood is nature’s own, not the romantic projection of man. Despite its solemn majesty, this powerfully unremitting image of urban chill includes amidst the figures who trudge home over frozen canals several representatives of winter landscape’s favourite and most time-honoured staffage – children tossing snowballs and a lady who has lost not only her milking pail, but also her dignity as she tumbles to the ice.

A new theme in the master’s landscape repertoire, Ruisdael painted and drew cityscapes in the 1660s and 70s, notably sites in and around Amsterdam, including views of the Dam and Damrak (see, as examples, View of the Damrak, Frick Collection, New York, and The Dam with the Weigh House in Amsterdam, Gemäldegalerie, Staatliche Museen, Berlin, no. 885D) and panoramic vistas of the city and its harbour from the rooftop of the Town Hall. Ruisdael only painted about two dozen winter scenes and none are dated, but Jakob Rosenberg (Jacob van Ruisdael, Berlin, 1928, pp. 40 and 55) hypothesised that he had begun painting these subjects around 1655.

Signed 'JvRuisdael' (JVR linked, the last three letters faint)