CODART, Dutch and Flemish art in museums worldwide

Jacob van Ruisdael: master of landscape

Exhibition: 26 June - 18 September 2005


This exhibition has been jointly organized by the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the Royal Academy of Arts, London, and the Philadelphia Museum of Art


Seymour Slive*, former director of the Fogg Art Museum, Harvard University and the world’s authority on the artist, and (coordinating curator for LACMA) Patrice Marandel*, chief curator, Center for European Art, LACMA

Museum press release, April 2005

The Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) presents Jacob van Ruisdael: master of landscape, on view from June 26 through September 18, 2005. Ranked with Rembrandt and Vermeer as one of the great masters of seventeenth-century Dutch painting, Jacob van Ruisdael (1628/29-1682) painted some of the most dramatic and seductive landscapes in the history of art. LACMA presents the first American exhibition dedicated to Ruisdael since 1981 and the first ever to be seen on the West Coast. Organized by Seymour Slive, professor emeritus of Harvard University and the world’s leading authority on Ruisdael, the exhibition features 48 of the artist’s finest paintings. The selection includes many paintings from private collections that are being lent for the first time, such as the imposing Waterfall in a mountainous landscape with a ruined castle (Private collection, United Kingdom). Other paintings from the collections of The State Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg and the GemĂ€ldegalerie Alte Meister, Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden, including the famous Jewish Cemetery (Dresden), have rarely, if ever, been seen in the United States. The exhibition, accompanied by a fully illustrated catalogue by Professor Slive, introduces new research and rediscovered works reflecting the author’s lifelong interest in the artist and his recently published catalogue raisonnĂ© of the more than 800 paintings, drawings and etchings by Jacob van Ruisdael (Yale, 2001).

Ruisdael’s unrivaled talent created some of the most beautiful and dramatic landscapes in the history of art, said LACMA president and director Andrea Rich. We are proud to bring this important exhibition to Los Angeles and spotlight this artist’s magnificent career. LACMA already boasts one of the top collections of Dutch masters in the United States, thanks in large part to the landmark gift in 2003 of twelve works by Mr. and Mrs. Edward Carter, which included Ruisdael’s The Great Oak.

Jacob van Ruisdael

Born in Haarlem into a family of artists, Jacob van Ruisdael was probably trained by his father, Isaac van Ruisdael (1599-1677), a painter, ebony frame maker, and picture dealer, and by his uncle, Salomon van Ruysdael (1600/3?-1670). During the 1630s, the years of Jacob’s training, Haarlem was the center of Dutch landscape painting; Salomon van Ruysdael was one of the innovators of a new style of Dutch landscape painting that emphasized tonality and realism. By lowering the horizon and limiting the palette to a monochromatic color range, these artists rejected the artificial, imaginary landscapes of the previous generation and created naturalistic impressions of the local Dutch countryside unified by an enveloping atmosphere. Although initially influenced by their work, Jacob van Ruisdael introduced stronger color, compositional accents and light to create a uniquely Baroque landscape. Like Rembrandt, Ruisdael used contrasts of light and shadow to dramatize his subjects and integrate his compositions. In his paintings, clouds sweeping across the sky cast shadows across the landscape while dramatically illuminating church towers, castles, or weathered trees. Majestic trees, battered by weather and age and precariously standing on rocky precipices, are among his recurrent subjects. A prodigious draftsman, Ruisdael relied on his carefully observed drawings to render views of specific locations and botanically accurate trees and vegetation, while increasingly orchestrating his compositions to create monumental and romantic, ultimately imaginative, images. Among Ruisdael’s recognizable subjects are the castle at Bentheim in nearby Westphalia and the views of the bleaching fields and distant skyline of Haarlem seen from a high dune. Ruisdael’s range of subject matter is wide, however, and includes the wooded dunes, sluices and country roads of the Dutch countryside, as well as icy winter scenes under steely skies and seascapes animated and integrated by storm-driven clouds. Among his most impressive works are the large Scandinavian views – images of landscapes Ruisdael never saw but knew about through the work of other painters. Under Ruisdael’s brush, however, his models are transformed and aggrandized. Placed above a mantelpiece in the homes of Dutch burghers, these large-scale paintings of water crashing over rocks and broken trees into the foreground, balanced by majestic fir trees silhouetted against the sky, would have made a powerful impression.


Although his paintings and drawings do not appear to have generated large prices during his lifetime, Jacob van Ruisdael did enjoy the patronage of prominent and affluent burghers. His large production suggests that his work also appealed to a wide public. By the eighteenth century, the naturalism of Ruisdael’s turbulent waterfalls and seascapes was particularly admired and his paintings were sought by princely collections in Germany and France. Sir Joshua Reynolds (1723-1793), England’s greatest eighteenth-century collector of pictures, owned at least five paintings by Ruisdael. Thomas Gainsborough (1727-1788) and later John Constable (1776-1837), among others, praised Ruisdael’s paintings in both their work and words. In a letter to Archdeacon Fisher, 28 November 1826, Constable told his friend, ‘I have seen an affecting painting by Ruysdael
.It haunts my mind and clings to my heart’. Constable’s passion for the artist is reflected in the acquisition of many of Ruisdael’s landscapes during the mid-nineteenth century by the National Gallery in London and later by the great turn-of-the-century American private collectors, whose donations form the foundation of our public museums. Today, paintings by Ruisdael can be found in every major museum in the country and Europe.

Ruisdael is represented in LACMA’s permanent collection by Landscape with Dunes of 1649 (Gift of Dorothy G. Sullivan, M.75.138) and The Great Oak of 1653 (Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Edward William Carter in honor of the museum’s twenty-fifth anniversary, M.91.164.1), one of the artist’s most celebrated paintings.


Seymour Slive, Master of landscape
27 x 23 cm., 280 pp., 180 color ills.
New Haven (Yale University Press) 2005
ISBN 1-903973-24-4 (hardbound)

Related event

Lecture June 26, 2005, 2 pm, Nature unleashed: the haunting landscapes of Jacob van Ruisdael by Amy Walsh, independent scholar/curator and author of forthcoming book Northern Paintings at the Norton Simon Museum.


Los Angeles, Los Angeles County Museum of Art (26 June-10 September 2005)
Philadelphia, Philadelphia Museum of Art (23 October 2005-5 February 2006)
London, Royal Academy, 25 February-4 June 2006)


The exhibition is supported by an indemnity from the Federal Council on the Arts and the Humanities. The Los Angeles presentation was made possible in part by LACMA’s Wallis Annenberg Director’s Endowment Fund. In-kind support was provided by Millennium Hotels and Resorts.