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Jacob van der Ulft, Dutch, 1627-1689

Study of Two Trees on a Rise, c. 1680 

Bril­liant sun­light strikes two trees, their entan­gled branch­es and leaves swept to the right by a gust of wind. To the lower right, anoth­er group of trees appears cur­so­ri­ly drawn, per­haps the same group­ing viewed from a dif­fer­ent angle. Such unfin­ished sheets are unusu­al among Jacob van der Ulft’s extant draw­ings, but demon­strate his impres­sive com­mand of light and shad­ow. To make this live­ly and dynam­ic study, he left parts of the white paper untouched, cre­at­ing areas of high­lights that glim­mer against the dark foliage and lay­ers of brown wash in the background.

While Roman and Ital­ianate sub­jects were Van der Ulft’s méti­er, he also exe­cut­ed a few land­scape draw­ings in his own dis­tinc­tive style, which often con­veys a spir­it­ed treat­ment of trees and their foliage under the bright light of a sunny day. In this draw­ing the day was breezy as well, to judge by the dynam­ic sense of move­ment in the tree­tops. By brush­ing the back­ground with even strokes of rapid­ly applied wash, Van der Ulft cre­at­ed a mid­dle tone to effi­ca­cious­ly off­set the bright high­lights of the white reserve of the paper in the foliage.

In style it bears com­par­i­son to a draw­ing in the Kröller-Müller Muse­um of sim­i­lar scale Fig. 1.1

Jacob van der Ulft, Landscape with Trees and Figures
Fig. 1

Jacob van der Ulft, Land­scape with Trees and Fig­ures. Pen and brush in brown in on paper, 281 x 205 mm. Otter­lo, Kröller-Müller Muse­um, inv. no. KM 103.724.

This lat­ter draw­ing is more fin­ished in terms of hav­ing a con­tin­u­ous land­scape and staffage fig­ures of trav­el­ers, as well as brush­work in the sky that is more sug­ges­tive of weath­er, though the sheet appears to be cropped at the left. Anoth­er large sheet of com­pa­ra­ble dimen­sions is in Ham­burg Fig. 2.2

Jacob van der Ulft, Two Figures Under an Oak
Fig. 2

Jacob van der Ulft, Two Fig­ures Under an Oak, c. 1680-89. Pen in brown ink, brown wash, on paper, 286 x 204 mm. Ham­burg, Ham­burg­er Kun­sthalle, inv. no. 22601.

It bears an iden­ti­cal water­mark as the Peck draw­ing and may have been made around the same time.3

A sec­ond sheet in Ham­burg that appears to belong to this group still bears an inscrip­tion in Van der Ulft’s own hand: int haegse Bos (in The Hague Woods) Fig. 3.4

Jacob van der Ulft, Riding in the Hague Woods (Haagse Bos)
Fig. 3

Jacob van der Ulft, Rid­ing in the Hague Woods (Haagse Bos), c. 1680-89. Pen in brown ink, brown wash, traces of graphite, 198 x 297 mm. Ham­burg, Ham­burg­er Kun­sthalle, inv. no. 22600.

This is a loca­tion where Van der Ulft like­ly made some of his other land­scape draw­ings as well, espe­cial­ly those with more north­ern-like trees that were prob­a­bly drawn from life such as those in the present sheet.5

The Haagse Bos was (and still is) a state­ly and arca­di­an stand of old-growth trees once belong­ing to the Princes of Orange. In the sev­en­teenth cen­tu­ry it was already a care­ful­ly main­tained park and game pre­serve just north of the old urban core of The Hague, with the palace Huis ten Bosch sit­u­at­ed at its fur­thest end. It was a pop­u­lar des­ti­na­tion for artists at the time, as inscrip­tions attest on a num­ber of draw­ings by other drafts­men, includ­ing Van der Ulft’s artis­tic con­frère and prob­a­ble friend, Jan de Biss­chop, an ama­teur artist who lived and worked in The Hague as a lawyer for the Court of Hol­land.6

An intrigu­ing fea­ture of this draw­ing is its seem­ing­ly unfin­ished state, unusu­al in Van der Ulft’s oeu­vre. The group of trees in the back­ground to the right have not been fully drawn, per­haps show­ing the same pair of trees from a dif­fer­ent angle, or per­haps reflect­ing the begin­nings of anoth­er group of trees in the back­ground, such as one sees in the Ham­burg draw­ing. In its present form the Peck draw­ing serves as a beau­ti­ful study of trees rather than a fin­ished work, an aspect that would not have deterred early col­lec­tors, who no doubt appre­ci­at­ed its pow­er­ful and live­ly design. This is borne out by the fact that the sheet appeared in an eigh­teenth-cen­tu­ry col­lec­tor’s album, along with a num­ber of other draw­ings by Van der Ulft, that first appeared on the mar­ket in the late twen­ti­eth cen­tu­ry.7

Its con­tents, includ­ing the present sheet, are excep­tion­al­ly well preserved. 

Van der Ulft’s land­scape draw­ings like this one appear to come later in his career, and might be relat­ed to a num­ber of signed roundels that sur­vive that bear dates in the 1680s.8

These draw­ings are all small­er than the works under dis­cus­sion, but appear to have been part of cohe­sive groups that the artist may have intend­ed to issue in series that have since been split up. The larg­er sheets under dis­cus­sion might well date to the same decade, as Annemarie Ste­fes sug­gest­ed for the Ham­burg draw­ings, though the water­marks leave open the pos­si­bil­i­ty that they could have been done slight­ly ear­li­er, per­haps in the late 1670s.9

End Notes

  1. Colen­bran­der & Van der Waals 1981, 126, no. 467.

  2. Ste­fes 2011, no. 1045.

  3. The water­mark is an Arms of Ams­ter­dam, com­pa­ra­ble to Hea­wood 342 & 343.

  4. Ste­fes 2011, no. 1044.

  5. Two other draw­ings by Van der Ulft in the Teylers Muse­um, Haar­lem, bear auto­graph inscrip­tions indi­cat­ing that they were drawn in the Haagse Bos; inv. nos. Q*39 & Q*40; see Plomp 1997, nos. 480 & 481.

  6. Quite a num­ber of draw­ings by De Biss­chop appear to have been drawn in the Haagse Bos, many with auto­graph inscrip­tions iden­ti­fy­ing the woods. While an incom­plete sur­vey, see, for exam­ple, those in Ams­ter­dam, Rijksmu­se­um; Brus­sels, Konin­klijke Musea voor Schone Kun­sten van Bel­gië (De Grez Col­lec­tion); and New York, Met­ro­pol­i­tan Muse­um of Art.

  7. This album was said to belong to the Baron van Hard­en­broek in the sale cat­a­logue of the Hans van Leeuwen Col­lec­tion; see Christie’s, Ams­ter­dam, 24 Novem­ber 1992; see Part I, 106, describ­ing lots 190-197. The bind­ing of the album was appar­ent­ly retained by the fam­i­ly. This draw­ing retains the 18th-cen­tu­ry back­ing sheet on which it was mount­ed, as does the other Van der Ulft draw­ing in the Peck Col­lec­tion from the same album (inv. no. 2017.1.81).

  8. Among the roundel land­scape draw­ings that retain their sig­na­ture and date (placed in the mar­gin out­side of the image, and often trimmed away by later own­ers), see, for exam­ple, British Muse­um, Lon­don (inv. no. 1861,0810.52), dated 168… (last digit miss­ing); Fogg Museum/​Harvard Art Muse­um, Cam­bridge, Mass. (inv. no. 1979.98), dated 1680; and a pen­dant pair that appeared at Christie’s, Lon­don, 12 Decem­ber 2003, lots 523 a-b, both dated 1686; for one of the lat­ter see also Pep­pi­att & Ong­pin 2011-12, 5, no. 3.

  9. See Ste­fes nos. 1044 & 1045, both dated c. 1680-89.