March 9, 2014

Kimbell Art Museum acquires 17th-century Dutch masterpiece

Edge of a Forest With a Grainfield, c. 1656, by Jacob van Ruisdael, will go on view in April.

The Kimbell Art Museum has purchased a painting by 17th-century Dutch landscapist Jacob van Ruisdael.

Edge of a Forest With a Grainfield, c. 1656, had been owned by Worcester College at Oxford University since 1811 and was bought by the Kimbell in a private sale. British art experts believe that the purchase price exceeded 8.5 million British pounds (more than $14 million).

Seymour Slive, the world authority on Ruisdael, professor emeritus in the department of fine arts at Harvard University and former director of the Harvard University Art Museum, described the painting as “a world-class masterpiece and miraculously well-preserved.”

Kimbell director Eric M. Lee said: “It is the best 17th-century Dutch landscape in an American museum and one of the five or six greatest in the world. We have a nice collection of Italian landscapes, but the only Dutch we had was a Ruisdael seascape, so this fits our collection to a T.”

This addition is an imposing complement to Ruisdael’s A Rough Sea at a Jetty, forming a mini-survey of the two main areas of the artist’s production, seascapes and landscapes, Lee said.

The large, almost 4-by-5-foot, painting features a typical Ruisdael subject; in it, large oak trees dwarf the small inroads humans have made into the forest. The low horizon and looming bank of cumulus clouds further heighten the imposing drama of nature. Ruisdael was one of the first Dutch landscape painters to pay particular attention to individual trees, according them star power in his nature tableaus.

“I think this painting will be among the greatest works in the collection,” Lee said. “Ruisdael is able to take an ordinary scene and make it monumental and grand. One thing that never shows up in reproductions are the reflections in the water. That passage of paint is amazing.”

Ruisdael’s dramatized landscapes were extremely influential on later generations of artists. Romantics of the 18th century such as Thomas Gainsborough and John Constable cited his influence on their work.

Edge of a Forest With a Grainfield will go on view in April when an appropriate frame has been fitted on it. It will hang with the other great Dutch paintings in the Kimbell collection, including those by Frans Hals and Rembrandt van Rijn.

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