Jan van Goyen is among the most under-recognized artists in the Grohmann Museum collection, but is also one of the finest Dutch landscape painters of the 17th century. He was very influential in his time, with many other painters adopting his palette, style, and technique. His paintings often began with a thin oak panel, which he covered in a white lead ground to fill the wood grain and provide a smooth painting surface. From there, we relied on a palette taken from the very nature he sought to capture; natural grays, earthen browns, and red ochres taken from earth.
This earthen palette serves Goyen well in A River Landscape with Lime Kilns. While he was primarily a landscape painters, Goyen maintained a certain sensitivity in the rendering of the subject occupying his scenes. Here, he shows two lime kilns and their supporting structures located next to a river. A worker carries a bag of limestone up to the charging area. Tools needed for arranging limestone and charcoal in the kiln and the removal of the finished lime are seen leaning against the kiln wall. Other workers toil at a fire to the left of the kilns. The scene is completed with figures occupying the boats in the foreground.
In lime making, crushed limestone is burned for several days at 1800°F, turning it to powdered lime. Lime is used in making mortar, fertilizer, whitewash, and concrete. In and around Milwaukee, lime production was an important local industry, primarily in providing mortar for Cream City brick. Local sites such as Trimborn Farm in Greendale and Lime Kiln Park in Grafton are a testament to this industrial heritage.