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Her­man Saftleven, Dutch, 1609-1685

Woods near Doorn, with a Shepherd and His Flock, c. 1645-55 

Her­man Saftleven labeled this draw­ing as near Doorn,”(bij Doren), a town east of his home in Utrecht. While the major­i­ty of the artist’s draw­ings fea­ture broad and open land­scape views, this study shows his skill at ren­der­ing aged trees and dense foliage in a wood­ed set­ting. To dis­tin­guish the fore­ground trees, Saftleven increased the inten­si­ty of black chalk marks along the trunks and limbs, but con­flat­ed the trees’ upper branch­es and leaves using a net­work of rapid strokes of chalk and wash. The con­trast of brown and gray wash­es, applied selec­tive­ly through­out the sheet, add vol­ume and visu­al inter­est to the composition.

This sheet dis­plays one of the most appeal­ing sides of Her­man Saftleven’s large body of draw­ings, the study of trees and dense foliage in a wood­ed inte­ri­or, as opposed to the broad­er and more open land­scapes that com­pose the major­i­ty of his oeu­vre. Saftleven skill­ful­ly craft­ed a sense of spa­tial reces­sion by vary­ing the den­si­ty of the chalk to set off the two fore­ground trees at the left with those behind them to the right. These forms merge above in a series of rapid strokes in chalk and wash to cre­ate an impres­sion­is­tic tan­gle of branch­es and leaves. Saftleven’s appli­ca­tion of two dif­fer­ent tones of wash with the brush are so essen­tial to the com­po­si­tion and light­ing scheme that they appear to have been applied in tan­dem with the black chalk. This effect is seen espe­cial­ly well in the trunk of the fore­most tree. 

Saftleven labeled a num­ber of his draw­ings like this one at the top cen­ter with the loca­tion, here given as near Doorn” (bij Doren), which lies to the east of Saftleven’s home­town of Utrecht. These works obvi­ous­ly record sights from his var­i­ous trav­els. From them it becomes appar­ent that he made a trip through Gelder­land around 1644, result­ing in a num­ber of draw­ings that can be dated to the mid- to late 1640s, some hav­ing like­ly been worked up in his stu­dio after his return.1

That may have been the case here as well, given the sheet’s high degree of fin­ish. Since Doorn was not too far away from his home­town, some of these views pos­si­bly result­ed from short­er trips taken at other times.2

Nev­er­the­less, this draw­ing’s style accords well with other works from the same peri­od, and the water­mark also sup­ports a date in the 1640s. It is also com­pa­ra­ble to an etch­ing by Saftleven dated 1644 Fig. 28.1.3

Herman Saftleven, Hilly Landscape with Hunters
Fig. 28.1

Her­man Saftleven, Hilly Land­scape with Hunters, 1644. Etch­ing on paper, 272 × 227 mm. Ams­ter­dam, Rijksmu­se­um, inv. no. rp-p-ob-15.055.

The etch­ing has been linked to a group of draw­ings that he made in the woods near the vil­lage of Hoog Soeren near Apel­doorn dur­ing his trav­els far­ther afield through Gelder­land. While some of Saftleven’s other tree study draw­ings resem­ble this one in com­po­si­tion and for­mat, the pres­ence of an iden­ti­fy­ing label clos­er to home is a good reminder, how­ev­er, not to assume that the unla­beled draw­ings in this group were nec­es­sar­i­ly made in Gelder­land.4

Among Saftleven’s other notable ver­ti­cal-for­mat tree stud­ies from this peri­od are draw­ings in the col­lec­tions of John and Marine van Vlissin­gen, Clement C. Moore, and in the Ham­burg­er Kun­sthalle.5

The artist’s han­dling could be quite var­i­ous in these works, rang­ing from sharply lin­ear to more wash-dri­ven, but the present work appears to have a search­ing, even exper­i­men­tal qual­i­ty that he never quite repeat­ed in his other tree studies.

End Notes

  1. Schulz 1982, 73 – 74, 304 – 06, nos. 654 – 65.

  2. Aside from the 1644 trip through Gelder­land, it is also appar­ent that Saftleven took a longer trip down the Rhine River into Ger­many around 1651; see Schulz 1982, 74ff.

  3. Bartsch, no. 27. For the relat­ed prepara­to­ry draw­ing in Munich, Staatliche Graphis­che Samm­lung (inv. no. 1800), which is indent­ed for trans­fer, see Weg­n­er 1973, no. 896.

  4. Peter Schat­born has already point­ed out that one of the draw­ings in this group (Schulz 1982, no. 655, now in the Van Vlissin­gen Col­lec­tion) could not have been taken from a view in Gelder­land given the rocky cliffs in the back­ground, though these might be entire­ly imag­i­nary in con­struc­tion rather than taken from a loca­tion far­ther afield; see Schapel­houman & Schat­born 1993, no. 39.

  5. For the Van Vlissin­gen (ex-Klaver) draw­ing, see Schulz 1982, no. 665; Hans Ver­beek in Ams­ter­dam & Paris 2015 – 16 2015, no. 34; and Schapel­houman & Schat­born 1993, no. 39. For the Moore draw­ing, see Schulz 1982, no. 655; and New York 2012, no. 38. For the draw­ing in Ham­burg, see Schulz 1982, no. 660; Ste­fes 2011, no. 915; and Ste­fes, Van Sloten & Van Oost­erzee 2012, no. 100.