John Smith, London;
His sale, London, Stanley, 3 May 1828, lot 56, for £71.8s to Stanley for Sir Abraham Hume;
H.A.J. Munro of Novar, by 1835;
Bought by John Smith and sold to a Paris collector (according to a ms. note by Smith in his own copy of his catalogue);
Possibly Sir Robert Peel, London (according to a ms. note in the Demidoff sale catalogue);
Paul Demidoff, 2nd Prince of San Donato (1839-1885);
His sale, Paris, Petit, 3 February 1868, lot 36, for 6,900 Francs;
Max Kann, Paris;
Her deceased sale, Paris, Drouot, 16-18 April 1877, lot 68 (reproduced in the sale cat.), for 18,000 Francs;
His sale, Paris, Drouot, 29 March 1886, lot 18, for 14,000 Francs;
Haro father and son sale, Paris, Haro, 30-31 May 1892, lot 47, for 7,200 Francs;
With Charles Sedelmeyer, Paris;
By whom sold to Franz von Mendelssohn (1865-1935), Berlin, by 1898;
His widow Marie von Mendelssoh-Westphal (1867-1957);
From whose Estate allocated to one of her heirs in 1961;
With Frederick Mont, New York;
By whom sold on 10 October 1963 to Herbert Girardet, Kettwig;
Thence by inheritance.
Dusk is approaching on a chilly winter day. The sunlight is fading on high clouds to the left while to the centre and right the brooding lower clouds are an icy deep blue-grey. The indirect light of the sun setting in the west is caught and reflected in the snow on the ground and on the bare branches of the two willows leaning to the right by the prevailing westerly wind, on frozen reeds and on highlights of the roof of the cottage, while the haystack and the banks of the small canal cast deep shadows. The snowy ground is gaining in innate luminosity as the daylight fades - a natural phenomenon that Ruisdael clearly understood well. While a lone figure trudges along the riverbank to the right with his dog, passing a pile of logs unloaded from a barge, and more distant figures are seen on the frozen river, human presence in this frozen world is more strongly indicated by the blue-grey smoke rising from the cottage chimney and blown to the right by the light westerly breeze: we know that there is relief nearby from this relentless chill. It is January or early February. The brooding clouds are not snow-bearing: snow has fallen but long enough ago that travellers have turned the path back to its usual brown, and at some point in sheltered spots it has started to melt. The clearing sky tells us that no more snow will fall for a while, but it will be a very cold night. It is a little after four in the afternoon, and the dwindling daylight makes it clear that it is time for folks to make their way home.
No other artist in the 17th century, or for a long time after, was able to depict a largely imaginary landscape that appears so utterly real, and to imbue it with such mood: of a place; of a season; of meteorological conditions; of the time of day.
About thirty winter landscapes by Jacob van Ruisdael have been identified, all of them works on canvas and of modest scale. None of them are dated, but he probably started to paint them shortly after his move from Haarlem to Amsterdam in 1655. The earlier ones, from the second part of the 1650s have what Seymour Slive described as "a fine airy, gray manner."1 This painting however belongs to a later phase, and is more sombre and moodily atmospheric in character. Apart from an intensely brooding upright painting incorporating a distant view of Haarlem, done in the 1670s, the present picture is one of only two winter landscapes by Ruisdael that incorporate a topographical view.2 Both these paintings take Amsterdam as their subject. The other picture, in a Scottish private collection, is a cityscape depicting the Hekelveld in Amsterdam, painted sometime after 1665.3 The present picture shows to the right a distant view of Amsterdam seen from the south-east from the west bank of the Amstel river, with the Hogesluis bridge traversing the river, and the skyline of Amsterdam on the horizon with the tower of the Zuiderkerk rising above it. A dating on grounds of style to the first part of the 1660s is supported by a drawing that Ruisdael made in circa 1663-4, perhaps immediately preceding the present painting, which shows the Hogesluis from the west bank of the Amstel, but much closer at hand (see fig. 1).4 The drawing was one of six sites on or near the Amstel which were etched in the same sense by Abraham Blooteling (1640-1690) (see fig. 2).
Ruisdael returned to this viewpoint right at the end of his life, circa 1681-2, in the second of two views of Amsterdam that he painted at around the same time in which the city is seen from near the west bank of the Amstel to its south-east (see fig. 3).5 The viewpoint is higher - and given the absence of any tall buildings in the area, is probably imaginarily so, but the massed trees in the left foreground may coincide with those behind the cottage to the left in the present picture, and it is interesting to note that in both a small drainage canal runs parallel to the river, a few yards to its left. The later view with its higher viewpoint also shows that the windmill seen to the right of the Hogesluis in the present winter landscape sat atop the bulwarks of Amsterdam's defensive walls.
Ruisdael's winter landscapes were probably more influential on much later painters than those of his contemporaries who specialised in them. Although Monet's Winter landscape at the entrance to Giverny shows a less intense and more sunlit winter's day (fig. 4), both artists were concerned with capturing the mood of winter as well as its physical appearance.6
Franz II von Mendelssohn (1865-1935) was a banker and direct descendant of the philosopher Moses Mendelssohn, and kinsman of the composer Felix Mendelssohn. His great-grandfather Joseph founded the bank Mendelssohn & Co. in Berlin in 1795, which remained in the family, latterly under Franz II's direction. In 1815 it moved its new headquarters to Jägerstrasse in what became thereafter the financial district of Berlin, where it remained, and the rebuilt headquarters survive today at Jägerstrasse 49-50. From the 1850s onwards the bank acted as bankers to the Russian Czars, dominating the Central European financial market for Russian sovereign bonds until the 1st World War. The bank weathered the financial crises of the early 1930s comparatively well, but as a Jewish-owned company was compelled by the Third Reich to sell its assets to Deutsche Bank before its enforced closure in 1938. Like earlier generations of his family, Franz II von Mendelssohn and his wife Marie (who was also his cousin) were staunch supporters of the arts and of museums, and like his older brother Robert (1857-1917), who owned Rembrandt's portrait of Hendrickje Stoffels and his self-portrait with a gold chain of 1655, they formed a highly distinguished collection of paintings, including Old Masters such as this Ruisdael, and more modern works such as the Van Gogh Wheatfield with Cypresses of 1889 now in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. Many members of the Mendelssohn dynasty were intensely musical or married musicians. After the 1st World War 1930s Franz II bought the famous Red Mendelssohn 1720 Stadivarius violin for his daughter Lili, who was married to the violinist and composer Emil Bohnke. Their son Robert-Alexander Bohnke (1927-2005) was a celebrated pianist.
1. See Slive, under literature, 2001, p. 468.
2. Frankfurt-am-Main, Städel, inv. 1109; see Slive, op. cit., pp. 472-3, no. 670, reproduced in colour. While the Sint Bavokerk in Haarlem appears in the distance, prominent in the foreground of the Städel canvas is one of Van der Heyden's patented lampposts for his city street-lighting scheme, the first in Europe, adopted installed by the Amsterdam authorities in 1669 and installed thereafter - a terminus post quem for the painting.
3. See Slive, ibid., p. 21, no. 9, reproduced in colour.
4. The drawing is in the collection of the Noro Foundation, The Netherlands; see Slive, ibid., pp. 506-7, no. D17, reproduced, and also S. Slive, Jacob van Ruisdael. Master of Landscape, exhibition catalogue, New Haven & London 2005, p. 212, no. 86, reproduced (for a larger, superior reproduction). Simon dated the present painting to the last decade of Ruisdael's life (thus to the 1670s; see under literature, 1930), while Walford (see under literature, 1991) thought it could have been painted shortly after Ruisdael's move to Amsterdam in 1655. Slive's dating is however entirely convincing.
5. Sold in these Rooms, 6 December 2006, lot 23, for £1.5 million; see Slive, ibid., 2001, pp. 16-17, no. 4, reproduced. The other painting, in the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge, is a broadly similar view, but seen from closer to the city (idem, no. 3, reproduced).
6. Sold in these Rooms, 8 February 2012, lot 5.
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