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Dutch Painting

Village at the River

Jan van Goyen
Oil on panel, 39.5 x 60 cm.
Alte Pinakothek, Munich
Villae at a River, Jan van Goyen

VAN GOYEN, Jan Josephsz.
Leiden 1596–The Hague 1656

Van Goyen's exquisite and fragile style of painting seascapes, river scenes and landscapes led him to be neglected for 200 years after his death, when a more finished type of picture was preferred. Now the situation is reversed: his open skies and lightly suggested trees and buildings are much prized by connoisseurs.

Van Goyen was born in Leiden and spent his early life there, being apprenticed, as was the young Rembrandt a few years later, to Isaac Nicolai van Sweenburgh. About 1616 he spent a crucial year in nearby Haarlem as a pupil of Esaias van der Velde, and this painter's influence was to remain for the rest of van Goyen's life. He then spent the 1620s back in Leiden and in the early 1630S moved to The Hague. He must, however, have revisited Haarlem, as in 1634 he was recorded in the house of Isaac van Ruisdael, who was the brother Salomon van Ruisdael. He sprnt the rest of his life in The Hague and in 1651 received the important commission to paint a panoramic view of the town which was to be placed in the Burgomaster's room in the Town Hall.

Van Goyen's development as an artist is relatively easy to follow, as a sufficiently large number of his pictures are signed and dated. His very earliest pictures are highly colored and very dose in style to those of Esaias van de Velde. He soon abandoned this manner and in the 1620s started to paint a large number of river scenes in cool colours, exactly like his Haarlem contemporaries Salomon van Ruisdael and Pieter de Molijn. In the late 1630s and 1640s his style changed again and approached a complete monochrome. The colour of the wooden panel or the prepared ground dominates the picture and each element is lightly sketched in, allowing the ground to show through.

Though spending most of his mature career living permanently in The Hague, painting in a manner typical of Haarlem, he seems to have been an insatiable traveler. A large number of his landscapes have identifiable topographical elements in them, and most Dutch towns and even villages appear in one or more of his pictures. They are rarely topographically accurate in the strict sense of the word, but the individual buildings are usually easy to recognize. The town which he painted most frequently was Dordrecht, where the cathedral can be seen at a distance from over the water.

Van Goyen was enormously prolific. Clearly his small, quickly executed pictures did not take long to paint, as minute detail was suggested rather than painstakingly filled in. Nevertheless his rapid brushwork was never facile. All his authentic pictures have a marvelous feeling for nature. They are rarely anecdotal. His human figures are usually adjuncts to the composition to give atmosphere. Van Goyen had a large number of now largely anonymous imitators and followers. All over the western world, where there are collections of Dutch pictures, there are slight and inferior landscapes painted in imitation of van Goyen.

Christopher Wright, The Dutch Painters: 100 Seventeenth Century Masters, London, 1978

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