Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Jacob van Ruisdael


"(H)e could conjure poetry from a virtually featureless patch of duneland as well as from a magnificent panoramic view." -- ODA.

Jacob van Ruisdael was buried on this day in 1682 in Haarlem, Holland, after dying at the age of about 54.

The greatest of the Dutch landscape painters before Van Gogh, Ruisdael came from a family of painters: his father Isaac was a framemaker and dealer who also painted (no works survive) and his uncle Salomon van Ruysdael was a well-known landscape painter. It was no wonder that by the age of 18, Ruisdael was already showing maturity as a painter.

While early on he showed the influence of Allart van Everdingen in his torrential seascapes and dramatically expressive landscapes, but he left his mark as a painter through the use of subtler atmospheric effects -- meticulously realized forms and a thick, dense use of color in inherently quieter settings. Lush trees were an obsession. Such values are evident in the majesty of his most famous work, Jewish Cemetery (c. 1660), depicting transitory, man-made tombstones and ruins being overtaken by a flourishing forest; nature always wins in Ruisdael's work.

Ruisdael is known to have painted over 700 paintings and seems to have lived a propserous life, but further details are sketchy. Some have claimed that he took a medical degree in Normandy while in his 40s and practiced as a surgeon, which if true would raise interesting questions about his indifference to painting human beings. For years it was assumed that he died insane in a workhouse in Haarlem, but more recently it has appeared that this was the fate the befell Ruisdael's cousin and namesake, Jacob van Ruysdael -- Salomon's son, yet another painter.

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