The Wallace Collection

Jacob van Ruisdael, Landscape with a Waterfall, Dutch, c.1670 (P56)
Treasure of the Month - March 2006

Jacob van Ruisdael, Landscape with a Waterfall, Dutch, c.1670 (P56)

Landscape with a Waterfall is one of four paintings by the great Dutch landscape artist Jacob van Ruisdael (c.1628/9-1682) in the Wallace Collection.

As Treasure of the Month for March, it complements the Royal Academy’s current exhibition Jacob van Ruisdael: Master of Landscape.

In this painting, Ruisdael depicts a river bounding through a rocky landscape and culminating in a dynamic waterfall in the foreground. The contrast between the diminutive figures standing on the hill by the house and the wide, foaming water, emphasizes man’s apparent insignificance against the force of natural elements. Topographic details such as the rocks in the foreground, the gnarly trees and roots growing by the water, and the imposing grey sky are accurately and realistically portrayed, suggesting a close study of nature. However, Landscape with a Waterfall almost certainly depicts an imaginary notion of a Scandinavian landscape, which Ruisdael never saw but which he would have known, through the paintings of contemporaries such as Allart van Everdingen (1621-1675). Everdingen (see Landscape with a Waterfall in East Galleries I) travelled extensively in Scandinavia, producing numerous dramatic landscapes which provided inspiration for many contemporary Dutch landscapists.

Jacob van Ruisdael was born in Haarlem, the son of a little-known painter and picture dealer, Isaack van Ruysdael (1596-1677) and nephew of the landscape painter Salomon van Ruysdael (1600/03-1670). He received some medical, as well as artistic, training, and he was recorded as ‘Doctor Jacob van Ruisdael’ in 1676. When he joined the Haarlem painters’ guild of St Luke in 1648, his native city was fast becoming the major centre for landscape painting in Northern Europe. During this period, Salomon van Ruysdael was an influential proponent of the new style of landscape painting, which strongly emphasized naturalism and tonal subtlety, and there is little doubt that his influence was a critical factor in his nephew’s artistic development.

Like many of his contemporaries, Ruisdael travelled widely in the Netherlands, producing a multitude of paintings and sketches from nature. His travels to the Dutch-German border in 1650-1 with his contemporary Nicolaes Berchem (1620-1683) introduced him to motifs apparent in Landscape with a Waterfall and other paintings: rocks, watermills and ruins. By 1657, he had settled in Amsterdam, where he ran a flourishing studio, teaching several pupils, including Meindert Hobbema (1638-1709), whose work is well represented in the Wallace Collection.

Acquired by the 4th Marquess of Hertford in 1850, the Landscape with a Waterfall was once a favourite work of art in the collection of Baron Dominique-Vivant Denon (1747 – 1825), draughtsman, engraver, author, diplomat, collector, and the first Director of the Louvre.

Related paintings in The Wallace Collection

  • Jacob van Ruisdael, Landscape with a Village,
    1650-5 (East Galleries I)
  • Jacob van Ruisdael, Sunrise in a Wood, c. 1670s (East Galleries I)
  • Meindert Hobbema, A Stormy Landscape,
    1665 (Great Gallery)

Further Reading

  • Seymour Slive, Jacob van Ruisdael: Master of Landscape,exhibition catalogue, Yale University Press, 2005
  • Stephen Duffy and Jo Hedley, The Wallace Collection’s Pictures: A Complete Catalogue, London, 2004 (available in The Wallace Collection shop).