The painter Willem Roelofs, born in The Hague, is considered to be a forerunner of the Hague school, a group of landscape painters who concentrated on the atmosphere and play of light in nature.
Roelofs was born in Amsterdam on March 10, 1822. When he was a young man, his family moved to Utrecht, where his father became an enlisted member of the Painters and Draughtsman Society. In June 1839, they moved to The Hague so that Roelofs could study in the Academy for Visual Arts and train in the atelier of H. van Sande-Bakhuyzen. His early work belonged to the dominant style at that time, Romanticism, displaying the grandeur and power of nature.
In 1847, the same year in which he helped establish the Hague Pulchri Studio, he moved to Brussels. During the years he lived in Brussels (1847-1887), Roelofs formed a link between the French Barbizon School and the progressive Dutch landscape painters in The Hague. Having begun under the influence of the Romantic tradition in which nature was represented in detail, he radically changed his artistic vision when he encountered the painters of the Barbizon school in France, who often painted in the open air and left out a great many details. According to these artists, this treatment was often truer to nature. Following this example, Roelofs too often painted in nature and left out many details, preferring to convey the overall effect of the landscape, sky and clouds.
Though he lived much of his life in Brussels, Roelofs often returned in the summers to The Hague, bringing with him the ideas of the Barbizon school. In Belgium he was one of the co-founders of the Société Belge des Aquarellistes and was held in high esteem by the Belgian royal family. In 1887 he returned to The Netherlands for a permanent stay so that his sons Willem Elisa and Otto Willem Albert, who were also to become painters, could further their education.
Roelofs proved to be an important influence, training, among others, Hendrik Willem Mesdag, who would develop into one of the masters of The Hague school. It was also Roelofs who encouraged Vincent Van Gogh to become a painter and to attend the Royal Academy of Art.
Landscape with Windmills and Two Fishermen shows Roelofs' command of the landscape, sky and clouds. The artist shows great skill in presenting a sky that is, at turns, threatening and promising. The two windmills on the left appear darkened under stormy skies, while the two mills receding into the background on the right are captured in the light of the sun breaking between the clouds. The painting is balanced by the addition of two fishermen, one squatting and another standing, awaiting perhaps the right conditions to go fishing. Roelofs has given the viewer almost the entire spectrum of greens and grays, captured in his portrayal of the earth and sky. The grass, water plants, and fields of the earth below are painted with fine and often wispy strokes, while the sky is painted with thicker, wider, and bolder movements of the brush. While he evokes a sublime scene, one that might be a favorite of the Romantic movement, Roelofs has eschewed detail in favor of brushstrokes that convey the vacillating mood of this moment, evident in the contrast between the sun and stormy sky.