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Anthonie van Bors­som, Dutch, 1631-1677: Broad River Land­scape with Boats, c. 1650 

This sketch, com­posed of swift­ly applied and some­times dry pen strokes, demon­strates how the artist divid­ed this land­scape into zones using diag­o­nals to alter­nate areas of land and water toward the dis­tant hori­zon line. It is a study for a fin­ished paint­ing, which he made in the man­ner of anoth­er Dutch artist, Aert van der Neer. As the only prepara­to­ry draw­ing for a paint­ing that has come to light from Anthonie van Bors­som’s body of work, it rep­re­sents a valu­able tool in under­stand­ing the artist’s cre­ative process.

Anthonie van Bors­som was a fas­ci­nat­ing­ly ver­sa­tile artist, who could shift styles in his paint­ings and draw­ings in a chameleon­like fash­ion to par­tial­ly adapt or even close­ly imi­tate the works of well-known artists of his day.1

He did so by cre­at­ing his own inven­tions in their styles rather than copy­ing their works direct­ly. Although there is no firm evi­dence that he was a pupil of Rem­brandt (1606 – 1669), it has often been sug­gest­ed that he stud­ied with him around 1645 – 50 given the sim­i­lar­i­ties in style between Van Bors­som’s land­scape draw­ings, for which he is best known, and those by Rem­brandt, his pupils, and close asso­ciates, such as Jan Lievens (1607 – 1674), Ger­brand van den Eeck­hout (1621– 1674), and Philips Konink (1619 – 1688). On the other hand, he was also inclined to work in the styles of artists as diverse as Pieter Saenredam (1597 – 1665), Aert van der Neer (c. 1603 – 1677), and Adri­aen van de Velde (1636 – 1672), none of whom had any artis­tic con­nec­tion to Rem­brandt and his ate­lier. It nev­er­the­less remains tempt­ing to posit him as Rem­brandt’s pupil given his ten­den­cy to adopt a spare and even non-fini­to approach in some of his draw­ings, sug­gest­ing con­tact with the mas­ter that involved the­o­ret­i­cal as well as prac­ti­cal mat­ters.2

At first glance, this draw­ing brings to mind famous land­scape etch­ings by Rem­brandt from the late 1640s and early 1650s, such as Six’s Bridge and The Gold­weigher’s Field, in which he man­aged to infuse the images with an airy and almost impres­sion­is­tic sense of a rapid­ly caught moment.3

In 2002, how­ev­er, Wolf­gang Schulz point­ed out that this draw­ing served as a prepara­to­ry study for a paint­ing in the man­ner of Aert van der Neer that Schulz believed was paint­ed by Van Bors­som Fig. 43.1.4

Anthonie van Borssom, Wide River Landscape by Moonlight
Fig. 43.1

Anthonie van Bors­som, Wide River Land­scape by Moon­light. Oil on panel, 28.5. × 36.5 cm. Present where­abouts unknown.

This would make it one of sev­er­al known paint­ed imi­ta­tions by Van Bors­som of Van der Neer’s noted spe­cial­ty, the moon­light land­scape.5

In 2014, Alice Davies con­firmed Van Bors­som’s author­ship of the present sheet in her cat­a­logue of the artist’s draw­ings, not­ing that it must have cer­tain­ly been a prepara­to­ry study for the paint­ing.6

Although the major­i­ty of Van Bors­som’s known land­scape draw­ings are more fully worked up water­col­ors, a num­ber of sketch­i­er unsigned sheets like this one reveal his hand through the swift­ly applied, broad, and some­times dry pen strokes.7

Despite his pro­tean nature, we have the ben­e­fit of under­stand­ing Van Bors­som’s more cur­so­ry style though the for­tu­nate sur­vival of an intact sketch­book by him in the British Muse­um in which numer­ous exam­ples of com­pa­ra­bly sketched works can be found.8

The Peck draw­ing is one of only two by Van Bors­som that relates close­ly to a paint­ing. The other is a signed win­ter­time ice-skat­ing scene on blue paper from the Abrams Col­lec­tion in the Fogg Muse­um Fig. 43.2, which near­ly match­es the com­po­si­tion of a signed paint­ing by Van Bors­som in a Dutch pri­vate col­lec­tion.9

Anthonie van Borssom, Winter Landscape with Skaters
Fig. 43.2

Anthonie van Bors­som, Win­ter Land­scape with Skaters. Pen and brown ink, gray wash, on blue paper, 218 × 272 mm. Cam­bridge, Fogg Muse­um, The Maida and George Abrams Col­lec­tion, gift of George Abrams in mem­o­ry of Arthur DuBow, Har­vard Class of 1954, inv. no. 2011.515.

As Davies noted, the Fogg and Peck draw­ings osten­si­bly offer us a chance to study Van Bors­som’s work­ing process from draw­ing to paint­ing.10

The Fogg draw­ing, how­ev­er, may have fol­lowed the relat­ed paint­ing rather than pre­ced­ed it, an alter­na­tive sug­ges­tion raised sep­a­rate­ly by both William Robin­son and Mària van Berge-Ger­baud.11

The addi­tion of wash­es lends it a more fin­ished appear­ance, as does the use of blue paper (rarely used by the artist) and the pres­ence of a sig­na­ture. It might thus be an auto­graph copy of a suc­cess­ful com­po­si­tion that he gen­er­at­ed for the col­lec­tors’ mar­ket, or per­haps even for the patron of the paint­ing. Van Bors­som made an auto­graph repli­ca on one other known occa­sion, and the prac­tice would have been in keep­ing with that of other artists in this peri­od.12

The present draw­ing might thus be the only true prepara­to­ry study for a paint­ing that has come to light in Van Bors­som’s oeu­vre. While cer­tain motifs from his sketch­book can be found in his paint­ings, this sheet is a full com­po­si­tion­al study, reveal­ing the artist’s devel­op­ment of the com­pli­cat­ed lay­er­ing of diag­o­nals that com­prise the zones alter­nat­ing between land and water. Where­as the Fogg ice scene is reduced in scale, the present work and its con­stituent ele­ments more near­ly match those in the sim­i­lar­ly sized paint­ing. Since there are no weath­er effects or cast shad­ows, just the gen­tle reflec­tions of the sluice and boat in the water, the artist may have already had a moon­light land­scape in mind as he worked up the drawing.

Davies cat­a­logued over 170 draw­ings by Van Bors­som, none of which bear a date, and nei­ther she nor Wern­er Sumows­ki found it pos­si­ble to devel­op a chrono­log­i­cal frame­work for his cor­pus of draw­ings from a career that appears to have spanned three decades.13

Only a few of Van Bors­som’s approx­i­mate­ly thir­ty known paint­ings bear a leg­i­ble date. None appears on a work that imi­tates Van der Neer, but we know that Van der Neer pio­neered his moon­light paint­ings in the late 1640s and that they peaked in pop­u­lar­i­ty in the early 1650s.14

A date for this draw­ing and relat­ed paint­ing by Van Bors­som like­wise in the 1650s is pro­posed here, thus toward the out­set of his career.

End Notes

  1. For Van Bors­som’s paint­ings, see Sumows­ki Paint­ings, vol. 1, 426 – 56. For his draw­ings, see Davies 2014; and Sumows­ki Draw­ings, vol. 2 (1979), 617 – 779. For an overview of his life and work­ing styles (and con­comi­tant issues of attri­bu­tion), see espe­cial­ly Davies 2014, 13 – 18.

  2. For an exam­ple of Van Bors­som’s like­ly inten­tion­al explo­ration of non-fini­to effects, see, for exam­ple, the draw­ing in the Fon­da­tion Cus­to­dia, Paris (inv. no. 4540); and its dis­cus­sion in Schat­born 2010, vol. 1, 117 – 18, no. 38.

  3. New Holl­stein (Rem­brandt), nos. 222, 257.

  4. Schulz 2002, 419, no. 1178 (entry for the paint­ing, see also fig. 274), in which he calls the paint­ing prob­a­bly by Van Bors­som,” and the relat­ed draw­ing pos­si­bly the prepara­to­ry study for the paint­ing.” This draw­ing in any case bears no rela­tion to the small cor­pus of twelve known draw­ings by Van der Neer; for which see Schulz, nos. D1 – D12.

  5. For a dis­cus­sion of Van Bors­som’s imi­ta­tions of Van der Neer’s moon­light paint­ings, see Schulz 2002, 42 – 44. The prob­lems of attri­bu­tion are com­pound­ed by the fact that later deal­ers some­times added false Van der Neer sig­na­tures to Van Bors­som’s paint­ings in his style.

  6. Davies 2014, 25 (“Schulz’s claim that the draw­ing pos­si­bly’ served as a prepara­to­ry study for the paint­ing strikes me as too restrained.”), 77, no. 75.

  7. For some exam­ples, see Davies 2014, nos. 78, 91, 93, and 96 (Sumows­ki Draw­ings, vol. 2, nos. 336x , 348x, 288, and 287, respectively).

  8. Davies 2014, nos. 122 – 77 (and intro­duc­tion, pas­sim). The sketch­book is com­posed of nine­ty-four indi­vid­ual sketch­es on fifty-six sides of forty-three pages. For a thor­ough dis­cus­sion of the sketch­book, see the intro­duc­tion and entries in Roy­al­ton-Kisch 2010, online.

  9. For the draw­ing, see Davies 2014, 94, no. 110; W. W. Robin­son in Green­wich 2011– 12, 126 – 27, no. 44; idem in Ams­ter­dam, Vien­na, New York & Cam­bridge 1991 – 92, 146 – 47, no. 64; and Sumows­ki Draw­ings, vol. 2, 696 – 97, no. 326. The paint­ing is in the col­lec­tion of Wil­helm J. A. Arntz, Wasse­naar (Ice Skaters on a Frozen Pond, signed, lower right: AVBors­som fct., panel, 35.5 × 40.5 cm); see Davies 2014, 25, fig. 2.

  10. Davies 2014, 25 – 26.

  11. W. W. Robin­son in Green­wich 2011 – 12, 126 – 27, no. 44; and Mària van Berge-Ger­baud in Paris & Ajac­cio 2012 – 14, 62 – 63, under no. 13.

  12. See Davies 2014, 26, nos. 11 and 16.

  13. For the prob­lem of chronol­o­gy, see Davies 2014, 19; and Sumows­ki Draw­ings, vol. 2, 617.

  14. Schulz 2002, 42 – 46.