Let’s Take a Walk in a Dutch Landscape

written by Sophie | Art History



The Dutch 17th century is a famous period in the history of art because of its prolific production of art.  It is not withouth reason  that the century is called the ‘Golden Age’ as the small country lived through one of its economic and cultural heydays. Art was booming  and while the towns were trading and growing, people felt more and more proud and appreciative of their countryside. Dutch landscape painting developed, for the first time, into a popular genre, which it still is today.

the countryside of The Netherlands

The Netherlands, where I was born and grew up, is very flat indeed. Most of the land is below sea level (protected from flooding by impressive waterworks, dykes, barriers and delta works, but that is a topic for a different blog) and some of its land is reclaimed from the sea. The Dutch landscape is full of water and sky. Polders are intersected by drainage canals, and major rivers such as the Rhine and the Meuse amongst many others, define the landscape. 

It is no surprise therefore that many landscape paintings show water, ships and a lot of sky. The ‘big skies’ of The Netherlands feature in many landscape paintings. There is something about this light coming from this usually grey and cloudy Dutch sky. Many painters try to catch it. 

Over the course of the early 17th century Landscape painting became a major genre in Dutch art. Although many still life and every-day scene (called 'genre') paintings were full of symbolic meaning, landscapes were often painted for the sheer joy of it. A national pride as well as some escapism from ever-expanding city life was no doubt part of the reason for the popularity of Dutch landscape paintings.

Artists such Hendrick Avercamp, Jan van Goyen, Meindert Hobbema, Jacob van Ruisdael are household names for everyone with even the slightest interest in art in The Netherlands.  Many cookie jars and tea towels will have been sold of Ruisdael’s Mill at Wijk bij Duurstde (a town in the centre of The Netherlands) or Hobbema’s little lane in Middelharnis (a village in Zeeland, near the west coast). 

So let’s take a break and go for a wander into the atmospheric woods, the wide open polders and the busy waterways of The Netherlands

You can click the images for an enlargement

Jacob van Ruisdael, windmill by wijk bij duursted, rijksmuseum amsterdam

Jacob Isaacksz. van Ruisdael, The Windmill at Wijk bij Duurstede, , c. 1668 - c. 1670, oil on canvas, h 83cm × w 101cm. Rijksmuseum Amsterdam

Jan van Goyen, View of Haarlem, the Met

Jan van Goyen (Dutch, Leiden 1596–1656 The Hague), View of Haarlem and the Haarlemmer Meer, 1646, Oil on wood, 13 5/8 x 19 7/8 in. (34.6 x 50.5 cm). The Met

Paulus Potter, Four Cows, Rijksmuseum Amsterdam

Paulus Potter, Four Cows in a Meadow, , 1651, oil on panel, h 25cm × w 30.1cm × d 1.1cm. Rijksmuseum Amsterdam

Jan van Goyen, Dordrecht from the Dordste kil

Jan van Goyen, Dutch, 1596 - 1656, View of Dordrecht from the Dordtse Kil, 1644, oil on panel, Ailsa Mellon Bruce Fund. National Gallery of Art, Washington.

Meindert Hobbema, The Avenue at Middelharnis, National Gallery London

Meindert Hobbema, The Avenue at Middelharnis, 1689, Oil on canvas 103.5 x 141 cm. National Gallery, London

Meindert Hobbema, wooded landscape

Meindert Hobbema, Dutch, 1638 - 1709, A Wooded Landscape, 1663, oil on canvas, Andrew W. Mellon Collection. National Gallery of Art Washington.

Jacob van Ruisdeal, View of Haarlem, Mauritshuis Den Haag

Jacob van Ruisdael (1628/1629 - 1682), View of Haarlem with Bleaching Grounds Dating c. 1670 - 1675, oil on canvas, 55.5 cm x 62 cm. Mauritshuis, Den Haag.

I hope you enjoyed our little outing!

Old Masters

 on the Blog

Published February 9, 2018

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  1. My great-grandparents emigrated to Michigan from the Netherlands. There are many people of Dutch descent in Michigan; I wonder if all the rivers, lakes and ponds made them feel at home…

  2. Thank you for this great article. I visited Amsterdam last year and loved every minute of it. I only had enough time to visit the Rijks Museum and the Van Gogh Museum. You are very blessed to have been born there and still have that Dutch old masters’ influence in painting. I am getting into landscapes and seascapes with big sky. Do you have any recommendations on Dutch landscape and seascape reference books – ones that have good-size photographs?

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