There are more Dutch landscapes from the 17th century than any other genre from one culture in one century. The Dutch love their nature! Their romantic landscapes are easily identifiable from the way they pursued realism to the point of insanity. My rule of thumb is that if every leaf on every tree is painted individually it is, without doubt, Dutch.
My favorite Dutch landscape painter is Jacob Van Ruisdael. Although his technical ability was impeccable, that is not why I love his work. He was a genius. He packs a big symbolic punch into every one of his paintings.
A good example is his View of Egmond aan Zee with a Blasted Elm. The town of Egmond is in the background, but the real focus of the painting is the mangled elm tree that was struck by lightning and destroyed. The tree is not dead, and new shoots are growing off of it.
It is reminiscent to the stumps of trees after the tornado in Joplin, MO. Come the next spring, they were growing new leaves in the most bizarre and wonderful way. To residents, the new growth represents a new birth to the city of Joplin.
Is the blasted elm a symbol of renewal for Egmond? Possibly. During the 17th century, the Netherlands were devastated by the plague and many other diseases. After the plague hit a town they had to start over with their reduced and demoralized population. They had no choice but to look forward and rebuild, much like Joplin. If Egmond was hit by the plague, it is possible that Ruisdael is alluding to it when he painted a bird about to land on one of the new branches of the blasted tree. The Dutch believed that the plague was spread by a kind of flying creature sent by god, often described as a little dragon. I believe that this painting is about the reconstruction of Egmond, and Holland as a whole after being destroyed by the plague.
While I was painting the aftermath of the Joplin Tornado the trees started to have new growth. When I saw how similar they were to Ruisdael’s blasted Elm, I included his tree in the painting. It is on the right-hand side of the painting behind the Joplin High School sign.
Ruisdael teaches us that nature can be brutal, but life continues with an empowering and enduring vigour. It was true for Egmond, and it remains true for Joplin.
If you liked this post, you may also enjoy:
Brown, Christopher. Dutch Landscape: The Early Years. National Gallery Publications: London, 1986. Print.
Slive, Seymour. Jacob Van Ruisdael: A Complete Catalogue of His Paintings, Drawings and Etchings. Yale University Press: New Haven, 2001. Print.
Stechow, Wolfgang. Dutch Landscape Painting of the Seventeenth Century. Hacker Art Books: New York, 1980. Print.
Walford, E. John. Jacob Van Ruisdael and the Perception of Landscape. Yale University Press: New Haven, 1991. Print.