A Wooded Path
was painted in 1833, at about the time Koekkoek had settled in the German ducal city of Cleves. The impressive Rhine landscape and age-old forests of the surrounding countryside, which had attracted Dutch artists since the seventeenth century, matched Koekkoek's own romantic, poetic ideal. In his book Herinneringen en Mededeelingen van eenen Landschapschilder
(Thoughts and Recollections of a Landscapist), published in 1841, Koekkoek hinted at the underlying reasons for his move. 'To be sure' he writes, 'our fatherland boasts no rocks, waterfalls, high mountains or romantic valleys. Proud, sublime nature is not to be found in our land'.
In Cleves, where he would spend the rest of his life, Koekkoek painted his most important landscapes, ranging from extensive vistas to more focused compositions framed by one or more oaks. It was thus that he initiated a style of landscape painting that is now generally referred to as 'Cleves Romanticism', and which is characterised by a fusion of realism (or sincere study of nature) and a tendency to idealise the landscape. Like other Romantic painters including his German contemporary Caspar David Friedrich, Barend Cornelis Koekkoek painted the motif of tiny figures within imposing, majestic natural environments to contrast humble humanity with the greatness of creation. However, true to his aesthetic, the symbolism in A Wooded Path
is subsidiary to the celebration and portrayal of a pastoral idyll.
The present work has the distinguished provenance of having belonged to Vincent (Cent) van Gogh, painter Vincent van Gogh's uncle, a long serving director at Goupil. There was a very lucrative market in art reproductions, and Cent persuaded Goupil to start publishing large engravings after paintings, which proved extremely popular. A lithograph of the present work was commissioned from Henri Lefort, Paris, as early as 1875.