There is a long tradition in Netherlandish landscape painting of depicting forests. The first purely forest landscape was created by the southern German painter Albrecht Altdorfer (St. George in the Forest, 1510; Munich, Alte Pinakothek). In the mid-15th century the theme can be found in the graphic works of Pieter Bruegel the Elder, and it is also seen before 1600 in the paintings of the Flemish artist Gillis van Coninxloo (1544–1606), who had immigrated to the Northern Netherlands. Initially the depiction of the sky was not important in these compositions. Only in paintings after 1600 does the viewer see the image from a greater distance, peering into the dark isolation of a forest, while the horizon expands and the sky contributes significantly to the atmosphere of the scene. Unlike their Flemish counterparts, northern Netherlandish landscape painters mostly refrained from adding Christian or mythological human or animal figures as accessories (staffage). Jacob van Ruisdael, whose oeuvre includes more than 700 paintings, ranks among the most important Dutch landscape painters of the second half of the 17th century. He was reasonably paid for his works, although the painters of “Italian” landscapes received larger sums. The composition of this large-format painting is extremely well-balanced: the dimensions of the foreground, a prelude to the main theme, allow the viewer to keep a necessary distance without losing sight of the heroic vastness of the forest (and thus of nature). A path crossed by a stream provides structure, creating a diagonal effect of depth. The tiny figures of the traveller taking a rest and the couple approaching the ford provide the necessary sense of scale. © Cäcilia Bischoff, Masterpieces of the Picture Gallery. A Brief Guide to the Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna 2010


  • Title: The Great Forest
  • Creator: Jacob van Ruisdael
  • Creator Lifespan: c. 1628/30 - 1682
  • Creator Nationality: dutch
  • Creator Gender: male
  • Creator Death Place: Amsterdam (?)
  • Creator Birth Place: Haarlem
  • Date Created: 1655/1660
  • Style: Dutch
  • Provenance: bought 1806
  • Physical Dimensions: w1800 x h1390 cm
  • Inventory Number: GG 426
  • Artist Biography: Jacob van Ruisdael learned to paint from his father, a framemaker, art dealer, and painter, and from his uncle, Solomon van Ruysdael. After studying landscape painting in Germany for ten years, he settled in Amsterdam. There he maintained a flourishing painting studio, where he trained the next generation of Dutch landscape painters, including Meindert Hobbema. Ruisdael's dramatic, naturalistic rendering of landscapes and his emotional use of color support his reputation as the principal Dutch landscape painter in the second half of the 1600s. His masterful compositions, meticulous draftsmanship, and thick impasto made quiet subjects such as trees or the flat Dutch countryside into deep sources of contemplation. Though earlier Dutch artists used trees merely as decorative compositional devices, Ruisdael imbued them with forceful personalities. Similarly, the vast, clouded skies looming over low, distant horizons inject tension into his panoramic landscapes. In addition to making seven hundred paintings and one hundred drawings, Ruisdael received a medical degree in 1676 and probably pursued a successful second career as a surgeon. ©J. Paul Getty Trust
  • Type: paintings
  • External Link: http://www.khm.at/en/collections/picture-gallery
  • Medium: Oil on Canvas

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