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Pieter de Moli­jn, Dutch, 1595-1661: Cottages in the Dunes, 1659 

Pieter de Moli­jn was a pio­neer of the sandy, hilly, and windswept envi­ron­ments char­ac­ter­iz­ing the dune land­scapes pop­u­lar in the sev­en­teenth cen­tu­ry. He often por­trayed the exten­sive dunes west of Haar­lem in the coastal region called the Ken­nemer­land. In this draw­ing, cot­tages are nes­tled between a stand of trees beneath a par­tial­ly over­cast sky. To indi­cate tex­ture and move­ment, De Moli­jn used a vari­ety of spiky, round­ed, and par­al­lel strokes of black chalk, while del­i­cate­ly applied lay­ers of wash pro­vide form and depth. Such late career works, signed and dated by the artist, were enor­mous­ly pop­u­lar on the con­tem­po­rary art mar­ket for their nat­u­ral­is­tic appearance.

Pieter de Moli­jn (or Molyn) was a high­ly regard­ed painter in Haar­lem dur­ing his life­time, though his rep­u­ta­tion today rests large­ly on his numer­ous draw­ings, around 500 of which sur­vive.1

He devot­ed most of his career to mak­ing land­scapes, many of which reveal his inter­est in the exten­sive dunes to the west of Haar­lem in the coastal region known as the Ken­nemer­land. This sandy, hilly, and windswept envi­ron­ment, while clear­ly not ideal for farm­ing, nev­er­the­less boast­ed a num­ber of inhab­i­tants in the sev­en­teenth cen­tu­ry, many undoubt­ed­ly liv­ing in cot­tages like the ones seen here nes­tled in a stand of trees. De Moli­jn has been cred­it­ed as a pio­neer of the dune land­scape,” along with Salomon van Ruys­dael (1600/03 – 1670), Jan van Goyen (1596 – 1656), and the lit­tle-known painter Pieter van Santvoort (1604/05 – 1635), though the exact ori­gins of this dis­tinc­tive sub­genre remain obscure.2

Attest­ing to the respect De Moli­jn received as an artist, along with his var­i­ous posi­tions of lead­er­ship in the guild, is the state­ment by Theodor­us Schrev­elius (1572 – 1649) in his 1648 his­to­ry of Haar­lem that he was one of the two best land­scape painters then work­ing in the city, along with Cor­nelis Vroom (1590/92 – 1661).3

Although dune land­scapes were his pri­ma­ry spe­cial­ty, he also treat­ed a num­ber of other sub­jects through­out his career, includ­ing for­eign or for­eign-seem­ing land­scapes. There is clear evi­dence that De Moli­jn spent some time in Rome early in his career (despite occa­sion­al asser­tions to the con­trary), though he never became a spe­cial­ist in Ital­ianate land­scape sub­jects like so many of his Haar­lem col­leagues.4

Judg­ing from the num­ber of his signed and dated sheets from the 1650s that sur­vive, the mar­ket for De Moli­jn’s draw­ings in this decade must have been enor­mous.5

This draw­ing in the Peck col­lec­tion, one of his last, marks a high point in his late draw­ing style. He artic­u­lat­ed the many com­po­si­tion­al ele­ments with a dense and par­tic­u­lar­ly expres­sive vocab­u­lary of strokes. These range from short spiky lines to more round­ed ones in the foliage, and del­i­cate par­al­lel strokes for hatch­ing the thatched roofs and the soft reflec­tions of the pond in the fore­ground. In many of his sheets from the 1650s, he also applied care­ful­ly con­trolled lay­ers of wash to enhance tex­tures and to cre­ate a greater sense of depth, where­as in his ear­li­er draw­ings he tend­ed to use either pen or chalk alone. Seen here in the tree on the left is his tech­nique of extend­ing the foliage by brush­ing the wash just beyond the lim­its of the black chalk lines that delim­it the branch­es. What De Moljin bril­liant­ly con­veyed is not just a range of sur­face qual­i­ties but also the evoca­tive con­ver­gence of oblique angles. The sag­ging roof of the cot­tage, the lean­ing pick­et fence, the trees stead­fast­ly resist­ing the stiff breeze, and the road that veers off into the dis­tance all com­bine in a uni­fied sweep of motion.

End Notes

  1. For De Moli­jn’s cor­pus of draw­ings, see Beck 1998. For his biog­ra­phy, see espe­cial­ly I. van Thiel-Stro­man in Bies­boer et al. 2006, 246 – 49. For his life and works gen­er­al­ly, see Allen 1987.

  2. See Liedtke 2003 for a thor­ough restate­ment of the issue, giv­ing greater weight to De Moli­jn’s role. See also Boers 2017, which redress­es the issue of reputation.

  3. Schrev­elius 1648, 389.

  4. De Moli­jn signed the album ami­co­rum of Wybrand de Geest (1592 – 1672/80) in Rome in 1618; see I. van Theil-Stro­man in Bies­boer et al. 2006, 246.

  5. For signed and dated works from the 1650s, see Beck 1998, 114 – 62, nos. 198– 336. De Moli­jn also made a con­sid­er­able num­ber of auto­graph repli­ca draw­ings in these years, for which see Beck 1997. For one of these repli­ca draw­ings in the Ack­land Art Muse­um (inv. no. 78.20.1), see Beck 1997, 347, no. 8B, 349, fig. 11; Beck 1998, 191, no. 419; and T. Riggs in Gill­ham & Wood 2001, 58 – 59, no. 18.