GOYEN, Jan van
(b. 1596, Leiden, d. 1656, Den Haag)

View of Dordrecht

Oil on canvas, 97 x 148 cm
Musées Royaux des Beaux-Arts, Brussels

Throughout his career Jan van Goyen combined quality and quantity. Constantly innovating, he provided the basic patterns for a wide variety of realistic landscapes produced by contemporary competitors in 17th century Holland and by several generations of imitators after him. This river landscape is a magnificent example of an oeuvre, catalogued by Hans-Ulrich Beck, of twelve hundred paintings and eight hundred drawings, which together form a milestone in the history of art. The quality of these individual works of art is measured, not by their "uniqueness" but rather by the amount of creative workmanship that they contain. Production-raising and - as is sometimes maintained - cost-reducing techniques that the artist applied, never led him into the sterile copying of successful scenes.

The present view of Dordrecht is not Van Goyen's "standard" view of Dordrecht. It is one of thirty known variants of a river landscape with a named city in the background, "composed" in the artist's studio. Starting with a simple picture-building structure, a view with a strong sense of atmosphere is produced which appears to have been painted from life at a particular point in place and time, though in fact it has been constructed from drawings, combining accurate observation and "dressing up" motifs. Looking out from a vantage point where the Kil and Oude Maas rivers meet, we see on the far side, on a low horizon, the horizontal profile of Dordrecht, identifiable primarily by the Grote Kerk. The illusion of depth is produced by a spit of land in the left foreground where, against the light, a group of people with a dog are watching as a ferry loaded down with cows and passengers is mooring. Whipped-up water, swelling sails on the many small ships and a heavily clouded sky suggest a stiff breeze. Several components in the picture, like the figures, the weather or even the city can perfectly well be replaced by alternatives, without the picture being any less a "face of Holland" that Van Goyen was one the first to model, at times with sky and water only.

The painting is signed with monogram and dated on the ferry boat to the left, 1653. Signature and another date can be seen on the ferry boat to the right, 1644.

© Web Gallery of Art, created by Emil Krén and Daniel Marx.