HOBBEMA, Meyndert
(b. 1638, Amsterdam, d. 1709, Amsterdam)

The Water Mill

Oil on wood, 77,5 x 111 cm
Musées Royaux des Beaux-Arts, Brussels

No one landscape painter of the Northern Low Countries has repeated the motif of water mills as often as Meindert Hobbema. More than 30 paintings treating this theme are known and are considered to represent some of his finest work. This theme, which was finally to become a sort of trade mark of Hobbema's work, was not, however, his own discovery, but that of his teacher Jacob van Ruisdael. Of the latter it is known with certainty that in the 1650s he travelled through the eastern provinces of Gelderland and Overijssel. There he made four drawings of the overhead water mills with the water brought along an elevated wooden gulley that are typical for the region, as also depicted here by Hobbema. Two similar drawings by Hobbema are preserved, but it remains unclear whether these were made in situ or based on Ruisdael's observations. With the exception of one painting, the world-famous Alley at Middelharnis, the origin of which remains swathed in mystery, Hobbema produced all his masterpieces within a very short period between 1663 and 1668.

The present unsigned and undated panel fits into this series. Following his appointment to the well-paid function of wine-gauger of the city of Amsterdam, Hobbema in 1668 largely or totally gave up his painter's career: no dated work is known after 1669. Hobbema is frequently portrayed as the highly gifted but more superficial and less imaginative successor to Ruisdael and who, in his Amsterdam studio, specialised in wooded landscapes built up around a pond or a winding pathway. Invariably vistas between the tree allow us to see through to sun-drenched areas. Hobbema developed carefully balanced views of rural sites of the kind that became very popular with 19th century English and French romantic artists and in this way escaped oblivion. The definition "picturesque landscape" appears very appropriate for views like those of Hobbema.