'View of Dordrecht and the Groote Kerk from across the Maas'

Jan Josefsz. van Goyen (Leiden 1596-1656 The Hague, The Netherlands

This riverscape is depicted on a cloudy day, with ferries and fishing boats sailing in the waves. There is a church and buildings in the distance.  

Artwork details

Medium and Support: Oil on panel
Dimensions: 64.8 x 96.8cm, (unframed) 79.5 x 111.5cm (framed)
Date: 1644
Signed: Inscribed on the side of the fishing boat left foreground: VG 1644
Accession No: WAG2000.25

Van Goyen was one of most prolific of all Dutch landscape artists producing more than 1200 paintings and 800 drawings in his career. During the 1630s along with other Dutch artists, such as Salomon van Ruysdael ['River Scene with Ferry Boat|'], he helped create a new approach to landscape painting that focused on local subjects, used a monochrome tonal palette and emphasised cloudy atmospheric effects such as those visible in the Walker’s painting. Between 1644 and the1650s van Goyen produced over twenty views of the Dutch city of Dordrecht as seen across the River Maas from the southwest. He painted the greatest number of these views, eight in all, in 1644.1|

The Walker’s riverscape is one of the largest and finest of his Dordrecht views of 1644. It shows his mastery in depicting damp blustery clouds and their dispersal of liquid sunlight over the inland waterways that he preferred to paint. Although all the 1644 views focus on the distinctive silhouette on the skyline of Dordrecht’s large Protestant church, the Groote Kerk, van Goyen has enlivened the compositions by depicting diverse dynamic weather conditions and painting a variety of shipping and human activities in the foreground. The Walker’s painting seems to show two ferry boats. The skiff or rowing boat in the right foreground is probably a ferry, with its eight passengers, rowing back across the Maas (towards Dordrecht), while the full sailboat is possibly a ferry going downstream.2| The other skiff to the left is being used as a fishing boat, with men putting out their nets, whilst on the nearby spit of land a man pushes a barrow or tub towards the fishermen.

Of the seven other views of Dordrecht that van Goyen painted and dated in 1644 the closest in composition to the Walker’s composition is that in Brussels, which, unlike the Walker’s painting, is much larger and on canvas. The Brussels view depicts similar but more blustery weather, whipping up the river into choppy waves and buffeting the boats. Like the Walker's painting, it also views Dordrecht from the foreshore of the junction of the Dordtse Kil, a tributary of the Oude Maas (the old channel of the Maas which flows north around Dordrecht) seen in the foreground of the Walker’s picture.3| The spit of land in the Brussels picture is, however, crowded with many more figures watching a ferry moor than the Walker’s lone man. Another 'View of Dordrecht from the Dordtse Kil|', in Washington, is almost the same size (64.7 x 95.9cms.) as the Walker’s view and is also painted on three horizontal wood planks.4| However, it shows a much calmer view with fewer boats and less human activity. A black chalk sketch, which van Goyen drew on the spot in around 1648, shows that, as was typical of his paintings, he has accurately reproduced the placing of Dordrecht’s key river-front buildings but has exaggerated the distances between them in order to give the horizon a panoramic character.5|

Overall the Walker’s picture has a monochrome light brown tonality, enlivened by patches of blue sky, green river-water reflected onto the Groote Kerk’s tower, and a touch of local colour in the red coat of one of the rowing-boat passengers. This dash of red is made all the more vivid by being the picture’s sole dab of bright colour. The painting’s white ground-layer shows through in places (especially in the sky) as a result of previous abrasion. But van Goyen’s fluid brushwork around the boats and the white highlights skimming the tops of the rippling waves are still in good condition. As the paint surface has become translucent with age the colour and graining of the wood panel shows through creating an optical illusion of a ‘pink’ effect in the sky, which may have been intended by the artist.6|

By 1644 when van Goyen painted the Walker’s view, the old city of Dordrecht had become a major commercial centre, whose wealthy merchants would have provided a market for the artist’s views. Its trading importance was due particularly to its favourable geographic position at the busiest junction of a number of major inland waterways in the south of the Netherlands. Dordrecht and especially the bulky Groote Kerk, with its unfinished spire, also represented the real and symbolic triumph of the Dutch Reformed Church for it was in the city that the Church was established after the 180 meetings of the Synod of Dordrecht in 1618-19.

Later history

Although van Goyen was a successful painter, who was well respected in The Hague artistic community where he was based from 1634 onwards, he engaged throughout his life in various unsuccessful business ventures including art dealing and property- development. In 1637 he lost a lot of money speculating on the price of tulips and eventually died insolvent. The belief of later critics that van Goyen’s financial difficulties made him paint in haste and too prolifically, led to the underestimation of his artistic achievements. Though he is now recognised as having been one of the founders of the ‘golden age’ of Dutch landscape he only began to be rehabilitated in England in the early nineteenth century.7| In 1833 JMW Turner| (1775-1851) painted an important seascape in the manner of van Goyen entitled 'Antwerp: van Goyen looking out for a subject|' (Frick Collection, New York). The Walker’s painting was by 1837 in the collection of the Blundell family of Ince Blundell Hall, north of Liverpool, as a van Goyen. Both Henry Blundell (1724-1810) and his son Charles Robert (1761-1837) had been educated in the Jesuit colleges in northern France and at Liège and Bruges (in what later became Belgium) and they may have acquired a taste for Dutch paintings whilst there. In 1770 for example Henry Blundell bought a very large still life by the Dutch artist Jacobus Biltius (1633-1681) from Arras College in Louvain, Belgium.8| Other paintings in the Blundell collection possibly bought by Charles, such as Joos van Cleve’s 'Virgin and Child with music-making Angels|' (Walker Art Gallery) also came from the Low Countries.9|

Provenance

Acquired by Henry Blundell (1724-1810) or his son Charles Robert Blundell (1761-1837) between 1803 and 1837;10| by descent to Lieutenant-Colonel Humphrey Weld (1912-1998) of Lulworth; accepted in lieu of inheritance tax from the estate of Colonel Sir Joseph Weld deceased (14 August 1992) by H.M. Government and allocated to the Walker Art Gallery in 2000.11|

Exhibited

  • Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool, 'Pictures from Ince Blundell Hall', April 1960, no.54
  • Alan Jacobs Gallery, London, 'Jan van Goyen 1596-1656, Poet of the Dutch Landscape Paintings from Museums and Private Collections in Great Britain', April-May 1977, no.19 (illus.) as ‘Seascape with a distant view of Dordrecht’.

Literature

  • G Waagen, 'Treasures of Art in Great Britain', vol.III, 1854, p.250
  • C Hofstede de Groot, 'A catalogue raisonné of the most eminent Dutch painters', vol.VIII, ‘Jan van Goyen’, 1927, no.45
  • H-U Beck, 'Jan van Goyen 1596-1656', vol.II, Amsterdam, 1973, no.296
  • H-U Beck, 'Jan van Goyen 1596-1656', vol.III, Amsterdam, 1987, no.296
  • 'Resource Acceptance in Lieu Report 2000/02', 2002, no.17 illus.

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Footnotes

  1. Hans-Ulrich Beck, 'Jan van Goyen 1596-1656', vol.II, Amsterdam, 1973, nos. 290-317. The eight views dated 1644 are: no.294 'View with 8 people in ferry-rowing boat', wood, 40 x 61cms. Pery B. Meyer collection, London; No.295 'View with 11 people in ferry-rowing boat', wood, 42.5 x 66.3, P de Boer art dealers, Amsterdam, (winter 1966/67); No.296 WAG2000.25; No. 297 'View of Dordrecht in the distance', wood, 67 x 102, Mr JAC Bierenbroodspot, Amsterdam (after 1955); No. 298 'View of Dordrecht', canvas 95 x 146, Musée Royal des Beaux Arts, Brussels, (inv.2823), which also has a date of 1653; No.299 'View of Dordrecht', canvas 104 x 134. Kunsthistorische Museum, Vienna, (cat.1938 nr.1312). Beck 'Jan van Goyen ein Oeuvreverzeichnis', (supplementary edition) vol. III, Doornsprijk, Davaco, 1987, no.295a 'Mouth of the Maas (Dordrecht)', National Museum of Western Art, Tokyo (P.1977-1); no.296a 'View of Dordrecht from the Dordste Kil', National Gallery, Washington, (1978.11.1).
  2. As suggested by Tony Tibbles, Keeper of the Merseyside Maritime Museum, National Museums Liverpool.
  3. Gustav Waagen, see below, 1854, vol.III, p.250, identified the foreground area of water as a canal.
  4. Arthur K Wheelock, 'Dutch paintings of the seventeenth century in the National Gallery of Art, Washington', 1995, pp. 61-64. The Walker’s planks have been bevelled along the edge and appear to have been cut mechanically at a tangent to the grain. 
  5. Jan van Goyen 'View of Dordrecht' black chalk and white wash, Dresden, Staatliche Kunstsammlungen, Kupferstich-Kabinett, Inv no. Ca 52/72. Although the Dresden sketch has been dated, by analogy to other dated paintings, to about 1648, four years after the Walker’s dated painting, the drawing of Dordrecht seems to replicate the positioning of at least two of the boats sailing along the waterfront in the Walker’s view of the city. However, the architectural elements behind such as the church and windmills are more compactly grouped in the Dresden drawing suggesting that there was possibly another unknown drawing, which van Goyen used for the Liverpool painting. The fisherman floating the net also appears in a 'View of Dordrecht' painted in about 1660 (Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam, inv. No. A121).
  6. Melanie Gifford in exhibition catalogue 'Jan van Goyen', Stedelijk Museum De Lakenhal, Leiden, 1996, p.81.
  7. Christopher Wright in Richard Green Gallery’s 'The Cabinet Picture. Dutch and Flemish Masters of the Seventeenth Century', 1999, p.150. Although there is evidence of British collectors’ being interested in his work from the 1770s onwards his paintings did not start to achieve high prices until after the Hamilton Palace sale of 1882, when his 'Woody river scene' sold for 380 guineas. See also C Wright’s essay ‘Van Goyen: A History of British Taste’ in Alan Jacobs Gallery, 'Jan van Goyen 1596-1656 Poet of the Dutch Landscape Paintings from Museums and Private Collections in Great Britain', 1977.
  8. Rafael Valls Limited '2004 Recent Acquisitions', London, no.3.
  9. 'Walker Art Gallery Supplementary Foreign Catalogue', Merseyside County Council, 1984, pp.9-12. According to Henry Blundell’s 'An Account of statues, busts, bass-relieves, cinerary-urns, and other ancient marbles, and paintings at Ince', 1803, other Dutch and Flemish paintings were bought by Henry from a variety of sources, including artist-dealers in Rome and London sales such as those of Sir George Colebrooke in the 1760s and 1770s.
  10. Entry in Charles Blundell’s posthumous 1841 inventory of Ince Blundell Hall reads: ‘Breakfast Room: A River Scene in Holland – Vangoyen 10 guineas’. There does not seem to be a similarly described landscape in Henry Blundell’s 1803 'Account' of his collection, which included 193 pictures. The small square white label on the back of the frame with no.109 printed on it does not relate to no.109 in Henry Blundell’s catalogue. Despite increasing blindness Henry is described by the diarist Joseph Farington in 26 June 1806 as continuing to collect through another intermediary to whom he granted a £500 annuity for the purpose. 
  11. Christie’s stencil on back of painting: PW 346 for June 2000 from which withdrawn.