Arti­cle: Esaias van de Velde I and the Birth of Dutch Landscape

Focus on the Peck Feature

This instal­la­tion, curat­ed by Robert Fucci, the Ackland’s Peck Col­lec­tion Research Fel­low, focus­es on works by the Dutch artist Esa­ias van de Velde I (1587-1630), one of the ear­li­est pio­neers to devel­op real­is­tic and plau­si­ble land­scape scenes as inde­pen­dent sub­jects. These works, dis­tinc­tive in their own right, set the stage for gen­er­a­tions of artists who fol­lowed. These draw­ings from the Peck Col­lec­tion on dis­play are some of his ear­li­est in the Unit­ed States. 

In the open­ing decades of the sev­en­teenth cen­tu­ry, a rev­o­lu­tion­ary new style of land­scape art emerged in the Nether­lands that focused on the appear­ance of the local sur­round­ings. While nat­u­ral­is­tic draw­ings or work­ing en plein air (out­doors) was not an entire­ly new idea, it had never before achieved such a degree of pop­u­lar­i­ty as it did among Dutch artists in the gen­er­a­tion that just pre­ced­ed Rembrandt.

Esa­ias van de Velde I (1587-1630), one of the most impor­tant of these artists, is often cred­it­ed for being among the very first to pro­duce paint­ings, draw­ings, and prints of real­is­tic Dutch land­scapes. Born in Ams­ter­dam, he moved to Haar­lem as a young man in 1609, the same year that the Nether­lands (then called the Unit­ed Provinces) attained its inde­pen­dence from Spain and became a sov­er­eign nation for the first time. It is cer­tain­ly no acci­dent that artists in this new repub­lic began to explore the beau­ty of their own coun­try in the 1610s, espe­cial­ly the woods and dunes around Haar­lem, which were par­tic­u­lar­ly famous for their time­less, peace­ful appeal and rus­tic charm.

The two draw­ings by Esa­ias van de Velde I on dis­play here with one of his etch­ings, are among the ear­li­est and most sig­nif­i­cant works of his in any Unit­ed States pub­lic collection.

A Clus­ter of Trees near a Ruin

Esa­ias van de Velde, Dutch, 1587-1630, A Clus­ter of Trees near a Ruin, c. 1620-25, Pen and two shades of brown ink over traces of black chalk on paper; fram­ing lines in brown ink. The Peck Col­lec­tion, 2017.1.86.

See A Clus­ter of Trees near a Ruin in more detail here. 

The artist has made the three trees in the fore­ground the main sub­ject of this work, con­trast­ing the twist­ed pair of stunt­ed older trees on the left with the taller and leafi­er one on the right. Two dif­fer­ent types of ink can be seen in this draw­ing. A lighter shade and loos­er strokes for the back­ground ele­ments height­ens the sense of per­spec­ti­val depth. Enhanc­ing this sense of space is the diag­o­nal road lead­ing into the dis­tance, an arche­typ­al com­po­nent of Van de Velde’s compositions.

Land­scape with a Rider and Pedes­tri­an [on Road to Left of Trees and to Right of a Field (Hil­le­gom)]

Esa­ias van de Velde, Dutch, 1587-1630, Land­scape with a Rider and Pedes­tri­an [on Road to Left of Trees and to Right of a Field (Hil­le­gom)], etch­ing retouched with burin on paper. The William A. Whitak­er Foun­da­tion Art Fund, 2003.20.1

See Land­scape with a Rider and Pedes­tri­an [on Road to Left of Trees and to Right of a Field (Hil­le­gom)] in more detail here. 

Although trained as a painter, Van de Velde also made prints of his land­scape designs. Here he uses the tech­nique of etch­ing, which allows a great degree of free­dom of line. This is espe­cial­ly seen in the short dashed strokes that make up the foliage of the trees, the grain in the fields, and even the thatch­ing of the roof of the cot­tage nes­tled in the mid­dle dis­tance. The num­ber 2 appears at the top because this sheet was one of a series of prints by the artist that cel­e­brates the wide flat spaces and crisp open skies of his country.

River Land­scape on a Hill

Esa­ias van de Velde, Dutch, 1587-1630, River Land­scape on a Hill, 1620, pen and brown ink on paper. The Peck Col­lec­tion, 2017.1.87

See River Land­scape on a Hill in more detail here. 

In this draw­ing, Van de Velde depicts a shep­herd dri­ving his flock up a rise in an embank­ment. The hilly nature of this work sug­gests a loca­tion fur­ther south or east in the Nether­lands, though he could have cre­at­ed it from his imag­i­na­tion while giv­ing it a real­is­tic cast. The man squat­ting to relieve him­self in the lower left cor­ner adds an ele­ment of humor to the scene. An espe­cial­ly amus­ing touch is the pres­ence of an out­house at the crest of the hill, which the trav­el­er either missed see­ing or could not be both­ered to reach!

Robert Fucci, Peck Col­lec­tion Research Fellow

29 June 2018 to 26 August 2018