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Her­man Saftleven, Dutch, 1609-1685: Cluster of Trees in the Dunes, c. 1627-30 

This view, cre­at­ed when Her­man Saftleven was about twen­ty years old, demon­strates the artist’s early engage­ment with the nat­u­ral­is­tic dune land­scapes depict­ed by con­tem­po­raries like Esa­ias van de Velde. Here, fig­ures under­take var­i­ous activ­i­ties through­out the draw­ing, some vis­i­ble along the fence lead­ing to a vil­lage in the distance. 

Saftleven used short, metic­u­lous­ly placed strokes of black char­coal for the ground ele­ments and trees and close­ly placed par­al­lel lines in the sky to indi­cate a par­tial­ly cloudy day. An exam­ple of the artist’s mature style, which dif­fers great­ly in his use of black chalk, is dis­played on the free-stand­ing wall nearby.

Her­man Saftleven was born and raised in Rot­ter­dam, but estab­lished him­self in Utrecht in the early 1630s, where he led a long and suc­cess­ful career as a land­scape spe­cial­ist and served sev­er­al times as head of the artists’ guild. Besides his activ­i­ties as a painter and etch­er, he also left behind one of the largest bod­ies of draw­ings from the era, num­ber­ing around 1,400 works.1

Many of these are signed and fin­ished sheets obvi­ous­ly intend­ed for the flour­ish­ing col­lec­tors’ market. 

While Saftleven’s mature draw­ing style is often imme­di­ate­ly iden­ti­fi­able, a dis­tinc­tive­ly dif­fer­ent approach can be found in the hand­ful of sur­viv­ing sheets from the ear­li­est phase of his career, such as this one. At the time, the young artist was still in Rot­ter­dam and under the spell of the draw­ings and prints of Willem Buytewech (1591/92 – 1624).2

Along with his con­tem­po­raries such as Jan van de Velde II (1593 – 1641), Esa­ias van de Velde (1587 – 1630), and Her­cules Segers (1589/90 – after 1633), Buytewech explored new com­po­si­tion­al for­mu­las for depict­ing local Dutch land­scape in inno­v­a­tive, yet con­vinc­ing­ly nat­u­ral­is­tic fash­ions.3

They eschewed the vast and imag­i­nary moun­tain­ous con­struc­tions of pre­vi­ous gen­er­a­tions in favor of charm­ing evo­ca­tions of their imme­di­ate sur­round­ings, as well as the agri­cul­tur­al and fes­tive activ­i­ties of the local pop­u­lace. Here Saftleven appro­pri­at­ed Buytewech’s use of short, pre­cise strokes to ren­der every­thing from ground fea­tures to trees, though he ulti­mate­ly gen­er­at­ed more feath­er­like pat­terns in his foliage than Buytewech, and employed a lighter touch over­all. Saftleven set this scene in dunes just like those found out­side of Haar­lem, where Buytewech and the other land­scape pio­neers had been active. Some fig­ures sit idly by while oth­ers work. A road prob­a­bly stands behind the fence to the right, which leads to the vil­lage vis­i­ble in the dis­tance. The unusu­al thatched struc­ture under the trees appears to be a tem­po­rary hold­ing or stor­age pen of some sort.

Buytewech was him­self orig­i­nal­ly from Rot­ter­dam, but reg­is­tered with the guild in Haar­lem in 1612.44

He worked there until around 1617 before return­ing to his home­town, where his career ended pre­ma­ture­ly with his death in 1624. There is no evi­dence that the two artists knew each other. Saftleven was only about fif­teen years old when Buytewech died, too young to have stud­ied with him beyond an early stage of appren­tice­ship. Saftleven’s father, how­ev­er, was a pro­fes­sion­al artist and art deal­er in Rot­ter­dam (often assumed to be the teacher of his three artist sons), mak­ing the pos­si­bil­i­ty of some degree of per­son­al con­tact with Buytewech plau­si­ble.5

While Buytewech is now cel­e­brat­ed as one of the great inno­va­tors of Dutch land­scape, his rep­u­ta­tion in the years fol­low­ing his death is more dif­fi­cult to deter­mine, espe­cial­ly since his land­scape draw­ings are quite rare today, and his land­scape etch­ings only sur­vive in a hand­ful of impres­sions. Anoth­er artist who made land­scape draw­ings in Buytewech’s style is Saftleven’s less­er-known con­tem­po­rary, François Ryck­hals (1609 – 1647), who may have also trained in Rot­ter­dam, and has some­times been cited as a pos­si­ble influ­ence on Saftleven’s early style.6

The Peck draw­ing is one of only about a half dozen draw­ings in Buytewech’s style that can be secure­ly attrib­uted to Saftleven.7

The attri­bu­tions of some of these works have long proven prob­lem­at­ic since only two of them are signed: one in Berlin with the artist’s mono­gram, and the present sheet, which is the only one that bears his full sig­na­ture.8

Two unsigned sheets in Lon­don and Brus­sels are clear­ly prepara­to­ry for Saftleven’s series of five etch­ings in Buytewech’s style dated 1627, made when the artist was only about eigh­teen years old.9

Two fur­ther draw­ings in Brus­sels and Cam­bridge, both unsigned and unre­lat­ed to prints, have been con­vinc­ing­ly linked to this early Saftleven group based on styl­is­tic cri­te­ria.10

To these can be added a draw­ing in Darm­stadt that is cur­rent­ly given to Jan van de Velde II, but more prop­er­ly belongs to this early group of draw­ings by Her­man Saftleven.11

This Peck sheet was unknown to Wolf­gang Schulz when he pub­lished his defin­i­tive 1982 study of the artist, but he became aware of it some­time before the Butôt sale in 1993. He stat­ed that he would include it in the sec­ond edi­tion of his cat­a­logue, which was slat­ed for pub­li­ca­tion in 1994, but never mate­ri­al­ized.12

Besides the fact that it is signed, a sig­nif­i­cant aspect of this draw­ing is its use of chalk. Pre­vi­ous­ly cat­a­logued works in this early Buytewech-style group are all some­what small­er pen and ink draw­ings, from which it has been right­ly assumed that Saftleven was influ­enced by Buytewech’s land­scape etch­ings. A larg­er black chalk draw­ing like this one, how­ev­er, sug­gests that Saftleven also had access to some of Buytewech’s remark­able black chalk land­scape draw­ings, all of which are sim­i­lar in size and for­mat to the present work Fig. 12.1.13

Willem Buytewech, Meadow with a Shepherd and Cows
Fig. 12.1

Willem Buytewech, Mead­ow with a Shep­herd and Cows, c. 1617. Black and red chalk, with pen and brush with brown ink, 281 × 379 mm. Wash­ing­ton, Nation­al Gallery of Art, inv. no. 1977.61.1.

The par­tic­u­lar form of sig­na­ture in the Peck draw­ing, HSaft.leven, appears in a black chalk draw­ing of a barn inte­ri­or dated 1630.14

We can assume that he exe­cut­ed the present draw­ing around the same time, or pos­si­bly slight­ly ear­li­er in con­cor­dance with the Buytewech-style etch­ings from 1627. A slight­ly later date nev­er­the­less remains appeal­ing, since in this draw­ing Saftleven begins to show signs of depar­ture from Buytewech’s style, search­ing instead for his own dis­tinc­tive yet grace­ful, embroi­dery-like foliage effects.

End Notes

  1. For Saftleven’s life and works, see Schulz 1982.

  2. For Saftleven’s early works in Buytewech’s style, see Grosse 1925, 88 – 90; Haverkamp-Bege­mann 1959, 48 – 49; and Schulz 1982, 54 – 55, 227 – 30 (cat. nos. 330 – 37).

  3. For devel­op­men­tal accounts of Dutch land­scape and the roles of these Haar­lem pio­neers, see the clas­sic stud­ies of Ste­chow 1966 and Freed­berg 1980, along with more recent con­tri­bu­tions such as Leeflang 1997 and Gib­son 2000. For a suc­cinct account, see Peter Sut­ton in Ams­ter­dam, Boston & Philadel­phia 1987 – 88, 21 – 34.

  4. See Haverkamp-Bege­mann 1959 for Buytewech’s life and works, still the essen­tial study.

  5. For Saftleven’s father, also named Her­man, see Obreen 1877 – 90, vol. 5 (1882 – 83), 115 – 28, with a fam­i­ly tree. Obreen tran­scribed his death inven­to­ry from 1627, which only lists paint­ings, and none by Buytewech, but worth not­ing is the pres­ence of paint­ings by other Haar­lem pio­neers such as Esa­ias van de Velde and Her­cules Segers, the lat­ter of which remained in the pos­ses­sion of his son Her­man; see Leefl ang & Roelofs 2016, no. P6.

  6. Haverkamp-Bege­mann 1959, 49; and Van Gelder 1967, 41.

  7. Schulz 227 – 30, nos. 330, 333 – 37. Schulz only reluc­tant­ly accept­ed no. 337 (New Haven, Yale Uni­ver­si­ty Art Gallery, inv. no. 1967.68; see Haverkamp-Bege­mann & Logan 1970, no. 405), which indeed seems a dif­fer­ent hand.

  8. For the Berlin draw­ing (Schulz, no. 330), see also Grosse 1925, 72, pl. 70; and Bock & Rosen­berg 1930, vol. 1, 266, no. 5365, vol. 2, pl. 191.

  9. Schulz, nos. 334, 336. See also, for the Brus­sels draw­ing, Ste­faan Haute­keete in Brus­sels, Ams­ter­dam & Aachen 2007– 08, 91 – 93, no. 27; and for the Lon­don draw­ing, Hind 1915 – 32, vol. 4, 50, no. 1. For Saftleven’s 1627 series of etch­ings, see Holl­stein, vol. 23, 131, nos. 20 – 24. His slight­ly larg­er etch­ing, Field before Farm amid Trees (Holl­stein, no. 38) also bears a strik­ing resem­blance to Buytewech’s style.

  10. Schulz 1982, nos. 333, 335. For the Cam­bridge (Fitzwilliam) draw­ing, see also David Scrase in Munich, Hei­del­berg, Brunswick & Cam­bridge 1995 – 96, no. 24.

  11. Darm­stadt, Hes­sis­ches Lan­desmu­se­um, inv. no. ae 834; see Darm­stadt 1992, 72 – 73, no. 24.

  12. This accord­ing to the entry in the auc­tion cat­a­logue (Sothe­by’s, Ams­ter­dam, 16 Novem­ber 1993, lot 55); as well as pri­vate cor­re­spon­dence between Shel­don Peck and Wolf­gang Schulz (cura­to­r­i­al fi les, Ack­land Art Museum).

  13. For Buytewech’s black chalk draw­ings, see those in Lon­don, Cour­tauld Insti­tute (see Haverkamp-Bege­mann 1959, no. 106); and Cam­bridge, Fitzwilliam Muse­um (idem, no. 107); and the two in Wash­ing­ton, Nation­al Gallery of Art (see Hofrichter 1983, nos. 22a, 22b).

  14. Schulz 1982, no. 1406; and Robels 1983, 141, no. 239. Anoth­er black chalk draw­ing by Saftleven dated 1630 appeared on the art mar­ket after Schulz’s cat­a­logue, present where­abouts unknown; see Sothe­by’s, Ams­ter­dam, 14 Novem­ber 1988, no. 34; and Phillips, Lon­don, 11 Decem­ber 1991, no. 140.