The period from 1650 and 1675, which saw the maturity of the artists Saloman van Ruysdael and Jan van Goyen was the great age of Dutch landscape painting.
Landscapes had initially been painted as backgrounds to narratives – as setting for religious or historical subjects. The big shift came when they became the dominant motif in the picture.
Dutch landscape painting is especially connected with the introduction into art of views of particular places. The city of Haarlem, produced a school of artists who specialised in producing magnificent cloud-filled vistas, waterways full of the actions and incidents of everyday life.
Some Dutch landscapes are of real places, some are simply imaginative creations. Van Ruysdael’s ‘River Scene with a Ferry Boat’, which looks so convincing, was in fact made up. Van Goyen’s ‘View of Dordrecht’, in contrast, is of a real place. Both though show extremely close observation of nature and an acute sensitivity to the specific vagaries of the Dutch climate – especially its dampness.
Dutch landscapes, can sometimes be read as quasi-religious images recording the bounty of God and the fruits of the earth. Van Ruysdael’s wonderful summer view celebrates the plenitude of nature. It is in a sense a ‘foodscape’ as well as a landscape. In contrast, ‘Warmond Castle in a Winter Landsape’ by Beerstraten celebrates the end-of-year rewards and pleasures of a prudent well-organised society that has provided for winter and can enjoy its leisure.
Dutch landscape is sometimes contrasted with classical French landscape. In fact both were highly contrived and in all cases painted in the artist’s studio.
Dutch landscape paintings were much collected in Britain during the 18th century and had a significant influence on the art of Gainsborough, Constable and Turner.