PROPERTY FROM A PRIVATE COLLECTION
signed lower left: JvRiuisdael and indistinctly dated
Possibly anonymous sale (possibly Comte d’Arlet), 17 April 1811 (third day), lot 94 (‘La vue de la ville d’Amsterdam, en venant de la Haye, prise de la coté de l’Amstell. L’on voit sur la gauche des praires, des maisons, la rivière et la route. Ce tableau de la plus grande vérité, offre aussi un coup de lumière qui frappe sur la ville, ce qui donne l’effet le plus piquan; un ciel lumineux, ménagé avec art, le redn encore un des ouvrages maruqans de ce maître’), for 51 Francs to Melle. Ebevemi;
Mlle. Catherine Thévenin, 4, rue Saint-Joseph, Paris;
Her sale on the premises, Paillet, 20ff. December 1819, lot 2 (giving a previous provenance to ‘feu M.Darlay de Langeac’, presumably the dealer Auguste-Louis-César-Hippolite-Théodore de Lespinasse de Langeac, comte d’Arlet), for 1,280 Francs to Perignon;
M. de Guignes, Consul Général de France a la Chine, Paris;
His deceased sale, Paris, Bonnefons, 17 January 1846, lot 49 (‘Campagne, située en dehors de la ville d’Amsterdam, dont on distingue les principaux edifices éclairs par un coup de soleil’), to Laneauville on behalf of;
Charles Auguste, Duc de Morny (1811-1865);
His sale, Paris, Drouot, 24 May 1852, lot 24 (‘Vue d’Amsterdam – L’Amstel occupe la droite du tableau ; au centre est un canal bordé par une prairie. Un rayon de lumiere éclaire la ville. Les nuages amoncelés sur le ciel, indiquent un effet d’orage’), for 3,100 Francs;
Presumably Herman de Kat, Dordrecht;
His deceased sale, Paris, Drouot, 2-3 May 1866, lot 71, for 2,650 Francs;
Henri Louis Bischoffsheim (born before 1850), Bute House, South Audley Street, London;
Presumably by inheritance to his widow (who lent it in 1904; see below)
By descent to their daughter, Lady Fitzgerald;
By whom sold (H.L. Bischoffsheim sale), London, Christie’s, 7 May 1926, lot 90, for 1,700 Guineas to Mensing;
A.F. Philips, Eindhoven, by 1928;
Thence by descent.
London, Whitechapel Art Gallery, 1904, no. 143, as View of Rotterdam (lent by Mrs Bischoffsheim).
C. Hofstede de Groot, A Catalogue Raisonné…, vol. IV, London 1912, p. 13, possibly no. 17, and probably no. 20;
K.E. Simon, Jacob van Ruisdael, diss., Berlin 1927, reprinted with additions and corrections 1930, p. 80 (as the original; the Fitzwilliam Museum picture as its copy);
J. Rosenberg, Jacob van Ruisdael, Berlin 1928, p. 73, no. 5, and p. 113, under no. 33 (the Leipzig drawing);
H. Brugmans, Geschiedenis van Amsterdam van den oorspong af tot heden…..Amsterdam, Amsterdam 1930-33, vol. II, p. 429, reproduced;
Oud Holland, vol. XLIX, 1932, p. 177, reproduced;
K.E. Simon, "Ruisdael aanschouwt Amsterdam", in Historia, vol. 5, 1939-40, p. 24;
L.J. Roggeveen, "Een gezicht op het Damrak van Jacob van Ruisdael", in Phoenix, 1948, 3, p. 93, note 13;
J.Q. van Regteren Altena, "Het gelaat van de stad", in A.E. d’Ailly (ed.), Zeven Eeuwen Amsterdam, vol. 3, Amsterdam (no date), p. 321, note 16 (as a copy after the Fitzwilliam Museum painting);
A.E. d’Ailly, Repertorium van de profielen der stad Amsterdam en van de plattegronden der schutterswijken, Amsterdam 1953, pp. 69-9, under no. 138;
H. Gerson & J.W. Goodison, Fitzwilliam Museum Cambridge. Catalogue of Paintings, vol. I, Dutch and Flemish, Cambridge 1960, pp. 111-12, under no. 74;
W. Stechow, Dutch Landscape Painting, London 1966, p. 128, and p. 210, note 26;
S. Slive, "Notes on Three Drawings by Jacob van Ruisdael", in Album Amicorum J.G. van Gelder, The Hague 1973, pp. 275-76;
J. Giltay, "De tekeningen van Jacob van Ruisdael", in Oud Holland, vol. 94, no. 1, 1980, p. 163;
S. Slive, Jacob van Ruisdael, exhibition catalogue, New York 1981, pp. 155-7, under no. 56;
E.J. Walford, Jacob van Ruisdael and the Perception of Landscape, New Haven & London 1991, p. 227, under note 27;
S. Slive, Jacob van Ruisdael, A Complete Catalogue of His Paintings, Drawings and Etchings, New Haven & London 2001, pp. 11, 16-17, under no. 3 and no. 4, reproduced, & p. 550, under no. D77;
S. Slive, Jacob van Ruisdael. Master of Landscape, exhibition catalogue, London, Royal Academy of Arts, 25 February - 4 June 2006, p. 58, under no. 58, and p. 232, under no. 99.
While the profile of the Sint Bavo cathedral in his native Haarlem, seen from afar in his so-called Haarlempjes, is perhaps the most familiar city landmark in all of Ruisdael’s work, the only city that he actually depicted at close hand was his adopted city of Amsterdam. Although he moved there in 1656 or '57, most of his Amsterdam views date from the 1670s and early 1680s; Stechow assigned them all to his very last period.1 That they tend to be based to a greater extent than most of Ruisdael’s work on drawings may not be significant; this may simply be due to a greater proportion of his Amsterdam drawings having survived. Taken together, his Amsterdam drawings do give us the impression that he was particularly interested in recording his adopted city.
Only nine of Ruisdael’s paintings of Amsterdam are known,2 and they are thus the rarest of his pictures. Apart from the present picture, only two are left in private hands, both of them in the U.K., and of them all only one, in the Frick collection in New York, is outside Europe.
As in his Haarlempjes, for example, the three Ruisdael Amsterdam paintings that are panoramic views seen from a high viewpoint are as much landscape paintings as they are cityscapes.3 They give the impression of the sublimation of man to nature that characterizes all of his work. The fields and the country lane in the foreground are, like the expanse of city beyond, the product of man, but he exists within them, and does not appear to have an independent existence as their creator, and they do not appear to us as his monument. In this Panoramic view of Amsterdam Ruisdael has depicted the city of Amsterdam as if in a landscape – literally so, since we see its profile across a meadow with stoops of freshly mown hay - and it does not strike us as separated from nature by its existence as a great city. Above all, it sits under a changing sky full of clouds blown by the wind from the sea to the west, which takes up over two thirds of the picture plane, and which dominates it. Ruisdael shows us Amsterdam as a city which is part of a landscape.
This is one of two similar but not identical views of Amsterdam seen from the south, painted by Jacob van Ruisdael, quite probably in 1681-2, the last year of his life. The other picture is in the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge4 (see Fig. 3), and they may both perhaps be Ruisdael’s last two paintings. A related drawing in the Museum der bildenden Künste, Leipzig5 (see Fig. 1), is probably the preliminary study for both paintings.
The view is generally topographically accurate (see Fig. 2). Running across the picture plane are the walls of the city. To the left, let into the city walls, is the Utrechtsepoort with its distinctive pediment. To the right of it is the distant tower of the Westerkerk, and to the right of that is the New Town Hall (later the Royal Palace on the Dam). Crossing the river is the Amstelbrug Hooge Sluis, and behind it the spires of the Zuiderkerk and the more distant Ouderkerk project above the horizon. To the right of the picture is the Weesperpoort, also a classical building, and let into the city walls. Next to and beyond the windmill that sits on a protecting bulwark of the wall to the right of the bridge is the Portuguese Synagogue, started in 1671 and consecrated in 1675 (on part of the site depicted in the foreground of Jan van der Heyden’s painting in the present sale). This provides a secure terminus post quem of 1675 for both paintings and the Leipzig drawing. There is however strong evidence for a yet later date, since in 1953 D’Ailly6 was able to identify the Reformed church’s Het Besjehuis (Old Women’s Home), which was started in 1681 and completed in November 1683. Its identification in the drawing is not entirely secure, but it is easier to see in both the present and Fitzwilliam Museum paintings: it is almost certainly the long rectangular building behind the Amstelbrug, with the Ouderkerk and Zuiderkerk towers rising directly behind it. Ruisdael embellished it with more dormers and chimneys than it actually has, perhaps because it was not finished when he made the two paintings (Ruisdael died in March 1682, a year and eight months before Het Besjehuis was completed).7 Given that the building is over a hundred metres long, and prominently sited on the far bank of the Amstel, where it occupies a city block between the Nieuwe Herengracht and Nieuwe Keizersgracht canals, it would have been easily visible in a panoramic view such as this (see Fig. 5). Its full name: Diaconie Oudevrouwen, is inscribed in a cartouche above the doorway, with the date of its foundation: Anno 1681 (see Fig. 6). Part of the building now houses the outstation of the Hermitage, St. Petersburg, called Hermitage aan de Amstel.
It is not certain from exactly which spot Ruisdael took his view, but a likely candidate is the tower in the Pauwentuin (literally 'peacock garden’), a favourite site in Ruisdael’s day for excursions along the river Amstel, upstream from the city. Taking his drawing now in Leipzig as the basis for both of his paintings, Ruisdael depicts the city from further away than he does in the Fitzwilliam picture, which in this regard is closer to the drawing (although the difference between the respective viewpoints may have been as little as one to two hundred metres). A photograph taken from approximately the same spot today (Fig. 4) shows how much the Amsterdam skyline has altered – much of the changes having taken place in the last three decades.
Old photographs from which this picture has consistently been reproduced show it with substantial overpaint, and in consequence its condition has been assumed to be poor.8 A recent cleaning has removed the old overpaint and in doing so revealed a picture in a much better state of preservation than was previously thought. The sky, which is scarcely legible in old earlier photographic reproductions, is coherent and is beautifully understood, and the silhouette of the city is also much easier to read.
The tall cloud to the right of the Fitzwilliam picture has been identified as an accurate portrayal (as one would expect of Ruisdael) of cumulonimbus, and beyond it a gigantic cloud: not identified, but named by a meteorologist: pseudocumulus codalis Ruisdaelis.9 On the basis of its state before cleaning, Slive suggested that the condition of the sky makes it impossible to determine if the present picture included such clouds, but the cleaning shows that the cloudscape is not the same; that the cumulonimbus is present; but that the formation named after the painter is absent. In both versions the clouds are depicted being blown across the sky by a strong prevailing westerly wind coming off the North Sea, about sixteen miles to the west. The present picture however shows the view in more unsettled and cloudier weather, so that fewer parts of the landscape are sunlit, and the overall mood is more sombre.
1 See under Literature.
2 Plus two or three more in which a distant view of the city is incidentally included in the background.
3 See Slive, under Literature 2001,pp. 16-18, nos. 3-5, all reproduced.
4 Idem, pp. 16-17, no. 3, reproduced in colour.
5 Idem, p. 550, no. D.77, reproduced in colour.
6 See A.E. D’Ailly, under Literature, pp. 68-9.
7 With the number of chimneys that it currently has, it would however have been difficult to heat adequately in winter, but there is no chimney breast in the central portion, which is a chapel.
8 For example see Slive, under Literature, 2001 and 2005.
9 See Slive, idem, p. 16, under no. 3; Slive cites J. Walsh, "Skies and Reality in Dutch Landscape", in D. Freedberg & J. de Vries (ed.), Art in History/History in Art, Santa Monica 1991, pp. 95-117; the meteorologist is George Siscoe.
Fig. 1 Jacob van Ruisdael, A panoramic view of Amsterdam, oil on canvas. Cambridge, Fitzwilliam Museum.
Fig. 2 Jacob van Ruisdael, A panoramic view of Amsterdam, black chalk and grey wash on two joined sheets of paper, 84 by 310 mm. Leipzig, Museum der bildenden Künste.
Fig. 3 Topographical key
Fig. 4 View of Het Besjehuis (Diaconie Oudevrouwen) seen today from across the Amstel.
Fig. 5 The cartouche above the main door, inscribed with the name and date 1681.
Fig. 6 Photograph of Amsterdam today from approximately the same viewpoint
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