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Kimbell Art Museum Purchases Major 17th Century Dutch Landscape Painting by Jacob van Ruisdael

March 9, 2014
Jacob van Ruisdael Edge of a Forest with a Grainfield, c. 1656 Oil on canvas, 41 x 57 ½ in. (103.8 x 146.2 cm) Kimbell Art Museum, Fort Worth

Jacob van Ruisdael (1628/29-1682)
Edge of a Forest with a Grainfield, c. 1656
Oil on canvas, 41 x 57 ½ in. (103.8 x 146.2 cm)
Kimbell Art Museum, Fort Worth

UPDATE: The sale price of the painting was approximately $16 million, according to the Art Tribune, which reports “the work did not receive the temporary export ban from British soil. This means no attempt was made to see if it might be acquired by an English museum when in fact the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford, to quote just one example, only holds two paintings by Ruisdael, both much smaller.”

The Kimbell Art Museum in Fort Worth, Texas has just announced its acquisition of a major 17th century Dutch landscape painting by Jacob van Ruisdael. The work had been in the same English collection since 1811 and will go on view in April.  The sale was brokered by Nicholas Hall at Christie’s.  Text of the museum’s announcement:

FORT WORTH—The Kimbell Art Museum announced today the acquisition of Edge of a Forest with a Grainfield, c. 1656, an exceptional work by one of the greatest landscape painters of all time, Jacob van Ruisdael. As the leading exponent of the Dutch landscape tradition in the 17th century, Ruisdael was renowned for his love of nature and for his ability to render its glories in paint. The remarkable work, impressively large and in near-perfect condition, is considered by experts to be among the greatest Dutch landscapes in the world.

Edge of a Forest with a Grainfield epitomizes Ruisdael’s mastery of landscape painting, uniting an unprecedented observation of nature with a sympathetic feeling for the bounteous glory of the Dutch countryside,” commented Eric M. Lee, director of the Kimbell Art Museum. “It is an imposing complement to the Kimbell’s Rough Sea at a Jetty, one of his most important seascapes. Whether depicting the sea or the land, these paintings attest to Ruisdael’s profound love of nature in all its forms.”

Seymour Slive, professor emeritus in the department of fine arts at Harvard University, former director of the Harvard University Art Museums, and the world’s greatest authority on Ruisdael, called the painting “a world-class masterpiece,” describing it as “an unusually large, signed, and almost miraculously well-preserved masterwork by the greatest and most versatile—by far—17th-century Dutch landscapist. A special feature of the painting is the large, mirror-smooth lily pond that virtually extends across its foreground. Comparable [stretches of water] are found in the artist’s forest [paintings] in Berlin and at the Hermitage. The fact that this landscape holds its own when juxtaposed to these stellar achievements by Ruisdael speaks volumes for its superior quality.”

Edge of a Forest with a Grainfield was donated by an alumnus to Oxford University’s Worcester College in 1811Except for its appearance in exhibitions, including the famous Manchester Art Treasures Exhibition of 1857, the painting remained in the possession of Worcester College until its purchase by the Kimbell Art Foundation through a private treaty sale negotiated by Christie’s, London, represented by Nicholas Hall.

The painting is in remarkably good condition. Before it is put on display at the Kimbell this April, director of conservation Claire Barry will delicately adjust small areas of old restoration. The landscape will be enhanced by an antique Dutch frame, dated to approximately 1730, in the French style, typical of the luxurious but restrained frames placed on paintings by Ruisdael in the century after his death.

Jacob van Ruisdael
Jacob van Ruisdael is considered the greatest Dutch landscape painter of the 17th century, Holland’s “Golden Age.” Born in Haarlem in 1628 or 1629, the son of a painter and picture dealer, Ruisdael was probably tutored by his uncle Salomon van Ruysdael, another landscape painter. Ruisdael began painting in his teenage years and moved to Amsterdam in 1655, shortly before he began Edge of a Forest with a Grainfield. Paintings from this period in his life are the ones for which he is most renowned. They typically show a greater emphasis on the majestic power of natural forms—noble trees and cloud-filled skies—and an increased mastery of light effects to give those forms emotional resonance. A prolific artist, he completed some 700 paintings over the three decades of his career, before his death in 1682. Edge of a Forest is ranked as one of his highest achievements, from the years of his greatest genius.

Edge of a Forest with a Grainfield
A large and imposing canvas, Edge of a Forest with a Grainfield shows a typical scene of Dutch country landscape as imagined by one of its greatest admirers. A grove of old oak and elm trees stands beside a pool or a stream, at the intersection of a sandy road or path. Tall timbers reach towards a cloudy sky, while one tree trunk lies fallen at the left. The trees—standing or fallen—are reflected in the water of the pool, the surface of which is broken by pads of water lilies and bunches of reeds. To the right, in the background beyond the stand of trees, fields of wheat can be seen. In the near ground, the ears of wheat can almost be counted one by one against the darker foliage of scrubby oaks, but in the distance, fields stretch towards a low horizon.

Above the trees, and echoing their shapes, large cumulus clouds rise against a bright blue sky; light reflects on the clouds, as it reflects off distant patches of leaves seen in the spaces between branches. Below the trees, a flock of sheep graze in the shade, watched by a shepherd with a staff, in conversation with a seated woman. Untouched nature, in the form of the oak trees, is placed side by side with the natural world as shaped or husbanded by mankind—the people who sow wheat in the fields or graze their sheep on Holland’s sandy soil.

Every detail of the painting attests to the artist’s keen eye and his love of natural variety and incident. Everywhere he leads the viewer towards something he thinks should be noticed: a broken branch lies bent in the lower right, pointing the way into the canvas; a puddle of water in the sandy road reflects the bark of the tree above it; delicate flowers of a water lily poke their heads above the water; a bush is in flower in the shadowy glade beside one of the trees, while silvery-green leaves shine between patches of ivy green. These myriad details, however, do not detract from the impressive unity of the whole—the sense of nature, in its grandeur, captured by a painter who truly loves it.

The Reverend Treadway Russell Nash (1724–1811), by whom bequeathed to Worcester College, Oxford, in 1811.
The painting remained in the possession of Worcester College since 1811 and was consigned for sale through Christie’s, London, represented by Nicholas Hall.

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