A monumental Hobbema

Abraham Bredius never managed to acquire a large representative work by Meindert Hobbema. The Bredius Museum only has a small, unsigned panel painted in his early years. A fine woodland view from his monumental period always remained elusive.

To date some five hundred paintings by Hobbema have been identified. Yet his works appear only rarely in Dutch collections. In the art market they seldom come up for sale since most of his paintings are currently in foreign museums.

Meindert Hobbema (Amsterdam 1638 - 1709 Amsterdam), like his mentor Jacob van Ruisdael, was one of the leading landscape artists of the Golden Age. Their monumental works represent the classic period of Dutch landscape art. Ruisdael and Hobbema dramatised nature by emphasising its elements to extraordinary proportions. Yet there is a crucial difference between the approaches of the two painters. Ruisdael gave his paintings an emotional content and by depicting dead and fallen trees he reminded his viewers of the transience of mortal existence. Hobbema, by contrast, portrayed the beauty of the Dutch dune landscape in an expansive yet matter-of-fact manner.

Despite its small format, this panel displays all the characteristics of an early work by Hobbema. In addition to the obvious influence of Jacob van Ruisdael, it also echoes early landscape artists such as Cornelis Vroom. It is recorded as part of Bredius’s collection as early as 1915.

Hobbema based his compositions on a triangle. Trees whose crowns lean towards each other form a pyramid supported on either side by a sandy road or woodland path. At the centre of the triangle is an open space offering a view onto sun-drenched line of dunes, a farmstead or a watermill. This approach enabled Hobbema to give an otherwise static landscape depth and movement. This work dates from the earliest years of Hobbema’s career as an artist. By then he had finished his apprenticeship with Jacob van Ruisdael. Unlike his mentor, Hobbema liked to give his compositions a sense of space. Clumps of trees are alternated with low-lying elements such as watermills, farmhouses, ruins and ponds. Within this theme he achieved a remarkable degree of variation.

Foreign admirers
Unlike Ruisdael, by the close of the seventeenth century Hobbema’s name had lapsed into obscurity in the Netherlands. Eighteenth-century biographers of Dutch artists, such as Houbraken and Van Gool, failed even to mention him in their publications. Most of Hobbema’s admirers were found abroad. Already in the eighteenth century large numbers of his paintings were being acquired by collectors in France and Britain, as well as in the United States of America from the late nineteenth century. As a result of this concentration of international interest, Hobbema’s works are seldom encountered in today’s art market. His paintings, which once adorned the walls of private collectors, have now almost all found their way into the galleries of the world’s public museums.

In 1859 scholarly interest in the painter and his work revived when the French art historian W. Bürger complained in an article in Gazette des Beaux-Arts: ‘It is almost inexplicable that we know nothing about those Dutch artists with European reputations, like Pieter de Hooch and Meindert Hobbema’. From that moment Hobbema became the subject of regular study. Bredius contributed substantially to this scholarship by publishing information about the painter gleaned from the archives.. In 1938 C. Hofstede de Groot published a catalogue of Hobbema’s oeuvre, describing over 500 paintings.

What appears at first sight to be an abstract composition is actually a rock formation through which figures are wandering. These only become apparent on closer inspection. This kind of abstract composition was unique in the seventeenth century.

Hobbema in the Netherlands
The Rijksmuseum collection contains three large landscapes by Hobbema. Two of these were acquired by the museum in 1885 when the collector A. van der Hoop bequeathed them to the city of Amsterdam in a legacy. The third was received from another private collector and was given on loan to the Mauritshuis in 1950. The Hague museum had until then no work by Hobbema in its collection. Since then, the museum has acquired two works from Hobbema’s finest period; one a gift, the other a purchase. This has closed a major gap in the Mauritshuis collection. It would be incredible to imagine that Bredius, who owned a small Hobbema himself and had indeed done considerable archive research on the artist, should not have made every effort while director of the Mauritshuis to acquire a fine representative painting by the artist for his museum. That he never found his Hobbema is itself an indication of the scarcity of this famous landscape artist’s paintings on the art market, then and now.

Meindert Hobbema
Meindert Hobbema was born in Amsterdam in 1638. Around 1656 he received his first art lessons from Jacob van Ruisdael who had just moved from Haarlem to Amsterdam. Hobbema’s apprenticeship to Ruisdael seems not to have lasted very long. His first signed work dates from 1657, indicating that he had by then established himself as an independent master. But the pupil and his mentor remained friends. Together they travelled the Dutch provinces, going as far as the frontier region of Twenthe and crossing over to Bentheim in Germany. In 1668 Hobbema obtained an appointment as wine gauger for the city of Amsterdam. This entailed supervising wine deliveries into and within the city. It has generally been assumed that Hobbema subsequently treated painting purely as a hobby. Considering the large number of paintings he produced, however, this seems unlikely. Moreover, one of his best-known works, The Avenue, Middelharnas (National Gallery, London) was only painted in 1689. Hobbema died in Amsterdam in December 1709.

The Hoogsteder Journal No. 8


Kunsthandel Hoogsteder & Hoogsteder is gespecialiseerd in de in- en verkoop van Hollandse en Vlaamse Oude Meesters en staat bekend om zijn publicaties en tentoonstellingen. Het kunsthistorisch onderzoek speelt binnen de kunsthandel een grote rol. Door de jarenlange ervaring en uitgebreide kennis op het gebied, verwierf Hoogsteder & Hoogsteder nationaal én internationaal faam.

Meer dan 40 musea in binnen- en buitenland kochten werken uit de collectie van Hoogsteder & Hoogsteder aan, waaronder het Rijksmuseum Amsterdam, Musée du Louvre, Parijs en het J. Paul Getty Museum, USA. Ook verleent Hoogsteder & Hoogsteder regelmatig medewerking aan tentoonstellingen in musea door schilderijen in bruikleen af te staan.

Willem-Jan Hoogsteder studeerde kunstgeschiedenis aan de universiteit van Utrecht en aan het Courtauld Institute of Art in Londen. John Hoogsteder ontwikkelde zich vanaf de jaren vijftig tot specialist op het gebied van 16de en 17de eeuwse schilderijen en is bekend als Oude Meesters expert bij het televisieprogramma Kunst & Kitsch.

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  • 2-11-2009

Comments (1)

Said this on 10-12-2009 At 01:34 am
A really interesting painter;his works make me feel so peaceful and happy.I sincerely admire his work.He´s in no way a mere landscape painter. He has that "something",so unique.

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