Dead Tree by a Stream at the Foot of a Hill

Object Details

Title:

Dead Tree by a Stream at the Foot of a Hill

Artist/Maker(s):

Jacob van Ruisdael (Dutch, 1628/1629 - 1682)

Culture:

Dutch

Date:

about 1650 - 1660

Medium:

Black chalk, point of brush and light and dark gray washes

Dimensions:

14.4 x 18.9 cm (5 11/16 x 7 7/16 in.)

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For Jacob van Ruisdael, decayed trees with bare, twisted branches could speak as eloquently as thriving ones. The aged tree was a long-standing theme in Dutch and Flemish landscape imagery, but in Ruisdael's hands it became a very personal expression.

Ruisdael focused this composition around a hollow tree whose bare limbs reach upward: a heroic element in the landscape. Its lifeless skeleton symbolizes the transience of human life, a favorite Ruisdael theme, and reminds viewers of the suffering and endurance required in life. Yet Ruisdael also set the dead tree amidst healthy ones, showing that both life and death have a share in nature. To balance the scene compositionally, Ruisdael contrasted the dramatic tree with a placid stream and picturesque footbridge on the left.

Ruisdael began by sketching the composition in black chalk. He then brushed in a range of tones of gray wash, creating a rich diversity of textural and light effects, especially on the right.

Subjects reflecting life's uncertainty and brevity were popular in post-Reformation Holland, where religious painting had nearly disappeared. The vanitas themes adopted by Dutch still life painters came from the same urge to record the fleeting character of nature.

Provenance

Hendrikus Egbertus ten Cate, Dutch, 1868 - 1955, Almelo, by 1955

A. Schwarz, Amsterdam and Amstelveen

Art Market California

December 1-15, 1964

C.G. Boerner, no. 86

Exhibitions
De Verzameling van A. Schwarz (September to December 1968)
  • Rijksprentenkabinet, (Amsterdam), September to December, 1968, (Cat. 90)
Landscape in Perspective Drawings by Rembrandt and his Contemporaries (February 20 to May 29, 1988)
  • Arthur M. Sackler Museum, Harvard University, (Cambridge), February 20 to April 3, 1988, (Cat. by F. J. Duparc 79)
  • Musée des beaux-arts de Montréal, April 15 to May 29, 1988, (Cat. by F. J. Duparc 79)
European Landscape Drawings of the 15th through 19th Century (October 6 to December 13, 1992)
  • The J. Paul Getty Museum, (Malibu), October 6 to December 13, 1992, (Cat.)
Drawings from the J. Paul Getty Museum (May 24 to August 8, 1993)
  • The Metropolitan Museum of Art, (New York), May 24 to August 8, 1993, (Cat. 99)
Drawings from the J. Paul Getty Museum (October 29, 1993 to January 23, 1994)
  • Royal Academy of Arts (London), October 29, 1993 to January 23, 1994, (Cat. 93)
Dutch Drawings of the 16th and 17th Centuries (August 16 to October 23, 1994)
  • The J. Paul Getty Museum, (Malibu), August 16 to October 23, 1994, (Cat.)
Landscape Drawings 1500 - 1900 (June 9 to August 23, 1998)
  • The J. Paul Getty Museum at the Getty Center, (Los Angeles), June 9 to August 23, 1998, (Cat.)
Drawing the Landscape: 1500 - 1800 (January 23 to April 15, 2001)
  • The J. Paul Getty Museum at the Getty Center, (Los Angeles), January 23 to April 15, 2001, (Cat.)
Dutch Drawings of the Golden Age (May 28 to August 25, 2002)
  • The J. Paul Getty Museum at the Getty Center, (Los Angeles), May 28 to August 25, 2002, (Cat.)
Paper Art: Finished Drawings in Holland 1590-1800 (September 6 to November 20, 2005)
  • The J. Paul Getty Museum at the Getty Center, (Los Angeles), September 6 to November 20, 2005, (Cat.)
Drawing Life: The Dutch Visual Tradition (November 24, 2009 to February 28, 2010)
  • The J. Paul Getty Museum at the Getty Center, (Los Angeles), November 24, 2009 to February 28, 2010, (Cat.)