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Esa­ias van de Velde, Dutch, 1587-1630

River Landscape on a Hill, 1620 

Esa­ias van de Velde employed a low hori­zon line and a near­ly blank sky to con­vey a sense of open space and great dis­tance in these nat­u­ral­is­tic scenes of old trees and coun­try roads. In the 1610s, togeth­er with other artists active in Haar­lem, Van de Velde ush­ered in a new style of land­scape art that focused on local sur­round­ings rather than the vast panoram­ic, and often fan­tas­ti­cal, views made by pre­vi­ous generations. 

Here, a herder guides his flock up a hill set beside a river or estu­ary. In the lower left fore­ground, a man squats to relieve him­self while his dog waits patient­ly, a humor­ous addi­tion com­mon­ly found in ear­li­er Nether­lan­dish art. Appar­ent­ly, the fig­ure either did not see the large out­house perched on the ledge fur­ther up the path, or he could not be both­ered to use it.

Togeth­er with other artists work­ing in Haar­lem in the 1610s, Esa­ias van de Velde devel­oped a new style of land­scape that would pre­dom­i­nate in sev­en­teenth-cen­tu­ry Dutch art.1

For Van de Velde and these artists, the local sur­round­ings served as their most impor­tant source of inspi­ra­tion instead of the vast dra­mat­ic sweeps of moun­tain­ous (and often fan­tas­ti­cal) views pre­ferred by pre­vi­ous gen­er­a­tions. This draw­ing offers pre­cise­ly one such view, with a herder march­ing his fl ock up a hill along what appears to be the embank­ment of a river or estu­ary. This is some­what hilly ter­rain, not to be found in the province of Hol­land itself. It could have been inspired by trav­els far­ther afi eld, such as along the Scheldt estu­ary to the south, or sim­ply a view con­jured from his imag­i­na­tion. He used near­ly the same com­po­si­tion­al for­mu­la for a black chalk draw­ing in the Lou­vre prob­a­bly made a few years later Fig. 10.1.2

Esaias van de Velde, Path Leading Up a Wooded Rise
Fig. 10.1

Esa­ias van de Velde, Path Lead­ing Up a Wood­ed Rise, c. 1624. Black chalk on paper, 220 × 334 mm. Paris, Musée du Lou­vre, inv. no. 23.099.

Van de Velde often sought sub­tle per­spec­ti­val effects in his land­scapes, such as those pro­duced by the near­ly blank sky in the Peck draw­ing. It is remark­ably effec­tive in sug­gest­ing deep dis­tance past the rise in the hill, an aspect aided by the care­ful place­ment of the water and dis­tant hills in the lower right to gen­er­ate a sense of an unseen hori­zon behind the main composition. 

Esa­ias often signed his draw­ings but did not always date them. His inclu­sion of the year on this work proves sig­nif­i­cant because it is his only known draw­ing dated 1620. The vast major­i­ty of his pen and ink draw­ings date to the 1610s, a decade when he pri­mar­i­ly worked in Haar­lem. After mov­ing to The Hague in 1618, he enthu­si­as­ti­cal­ly took to explor­ing the use of black chalk for his draw­ings.3

Only a few of his sheets in pen and ink are thought to date to this later peri­od after he left Haar­lem, includ­ing anoth­er work in the Peck Col­lec­tion.4

Esa­ias added a humor­ous touch to this image with the fig­ure of a man defe­cat­ing in the lower left cor­ner while his canine com­pan­ion waits patient­ly by his side. The motif of depict­ing a fig­ure engaged in such activ­i­ty has a long tra­di­tion in Nether­lan­dish art.5

Accord­ing to Karel van Man­der, Joachim Patinir (1480 – 1524) gar­nered the nick­name kakker (poop­er) for his habit of plac­ing a small fig­ure reliev­ing him­self in his land­scape paint­ings.6

The motif is rel­a­tive­ly rare in Esa­ias’s works, although he used it on at least one other occa­sion.7

The Haar­lem artist Jan van de Velde II (1593 – 1641), who was per­haps Esa­ias’s dis­tant cousin, turned the motif into the pri­ma­ry sub­ject of a print from a series treat­ing the rig­ors of trav­el Fig. 10.2.8

Jan van de Velde II, Landscape with a Defecating Man
Fig. 10.2

Jan van de Velde II, Land­scape with a Defe­cat­ing Man. Etch­ing and engrav­ing on paper, 88 × 160 mm. Ams­ter­dam, Rijksmu­se­um, inv. no. rp-p-ob-15.316.

Par­tic­u­lar­ly amus­ing in Esa­ias’s draw­ing is the pres­ence of the out­house perched on the ledge at the top of the rise. Appar­ent­ly, the trav­el­er com­plete­ly missed its pres­ence — which would have been oppor­tune — or he sim­ply could not be both­ered to reach it.

End Notes

  1. For Esa­ias van de Velde’s life and works, see Keyes 1984. The lit­er­a­ture regard­ing the new modes of land­scape being pro­duced in Haar­lem at the time is large, but see espe­cial­ly Freed­berg 1980; Lon­don 1986; Ams­ter­dam, Boston & Philadel­phia 1986 – 87; Levesque 1996; Leeflang 1997; and Gib­son 2000.

  2. Keyes 1984, 277, no. D200, pl. 168.

  3. Keyes 1987.

  4. Ack­land Art Muse­um, inv. no. 2017.1.86.

  5. See Riboul­li­ault 2016, who posits an art-the­o­ret­i­cal aspect to this motif, the artist regur­gi­tat­ing” nature.

  6. Van Man­der, Lives, vol. 1, 134.

  7. See Keyes 1984, 252, no. D119, pl. 106.

  8. Holl­stein, vols. 33 – 34, no. 130.