Oil on panel
22 x 32 inches (57 x 81 cm.)
Framed: 30 1/2 x 41 inches (77.5 x 104.1 cm.)
Signed: on the ferry lower left and dated 1656
Herzog Ludwig Wilhelm von Bayern, Schloss Tegernesee, inv. no.69;
In the possession of the previous owner since 1927
Private Collection, USA
Cologne, 1954, no. 25
Stechow, W., Salomon van Ruysdael, revised ed., p.127, no. 375, Berlin, 1975.
Salomon Jacobsz van Ruysdael was born in Naarden around 1600. His father was Jacob Jansz de Goyer, a cabinetmaker from Gooiland. Early in his life, Salomon used his father’s name, de Goyer (of Gooiland), but later following the example of his eldest brother, he adopted the name Ruysdael. The name is thought to have come from the castle of Ruijschdaal in Gooiland, which may at one time have been a family possession.
Shortly after his father’s death in 1616, Salomon and one of his brothers Isaak who was also a painter, frame maker and art dealer, moved to Haarlem. Salomon entered the city’s St Luke’s Guild in 1623 under the name Salomon de Goyer. It is possible he studied in Haarlem with Esias van de Velde and seems to have lived and worked in the city for his entire life. In 1647 and 1651, Ruysdael was recorded as a merchant dealing in blue dye for Haarlem’s bleacheries. He was buried in St. Bravo’s Church in Haarlem in 1670.
River Landscape with a Cattle Ferry is one of several themes that Salomon van Ruysdael painted throughout his career. It is a scene at the edge of the city, depicting the system of transport that carried people and goods through a landscape dominated by water. Many of Ruysdael’s subjects reflect his interest in the relationship between city and country life and of travelling between them. In this painting, he explores the transitions almost exclusively from outside the city, where water, woodland and sky dominate the view. Salomon was known for this type of painting from as early as 1628, when Samuel van Ampzing mentioned him in his Beschryvingeendelof der stadHaerlem… (Description and praise of the town of Haarlem). His paintings had an enormous impact on the tradition of landscape painting in Haarlem, and, in many ways, have come to represent the genre itself. Indeed, River Landscape with a Cattle Ferry encompasses all that lovers of Dutch landscape admire about the tradition: the ease of the subject matter, the scene’s naturalistic appearance, and the attention to the effects of light and weather. Together with Pieter Molijin (1595-1661) and Jan van Goyen (1596-1656), Ruysdael revolutionised Dutch landscape painting with scenes such as this.
River Landscape with Cattle Ferry reflects Salomon’s later career, following his experiments with a muted palette in the 1630s, when his use of color became more prominent. Strategically placed points of saturated red lead the eye to the two points of action in this scene – the boatman on the left who pulls his barge to the shore and the boatman on the right who bends over his cargo. They make this short trip countless times a day and, through sheer repetition their movements have become habitual. Like the cycle of nature itself, their routine contact with water and land takes on the reassuring quality of predictability. Just as the sun moves through the sky, the boatmen will move across the water between the riverbanks. Ruysdael has selectively used light within a rectangular bright patch defined by the horizon line, the edge of the painting and the shadows of the boat and the trees. The bulk of the cows fills the space almost entirely, their stable forms framed by the straining movement of the men on either side. This part of the composition is balanced by an elongated pool of bright illumination that breaks through the trees on the right, highlighting the other boatman’s crouching form and a herder’s attempt to bring a straying cow back to the group waiting to cross the river. This is a generalised view of a rural Dutch scene – a lush woodland and expansive blue sky, and the human activity that animates the landscape.
See, for example, A River Landscape with Peasants Ferrying Cattle (formerly with Johnny van Haefton) of 1633 and two paintings of the same name, one dated 1635 and one dated 1667, illustrated in Stetchow, Salomon van Ruysdael: eineEinfürung in seine kunst (Berlin, 1938), figs. 13 & 56.
Some of Ruysdael’s views are identifiable by the buildings that appear in the distance. Views of cities such as Amersfoot, Arnhem, Leiden, Utrecht, Rhenen, and Dordecht have been identified. However, while the church in the background of this painting shares characteristics eith those in both Warmond and Rijksick, it doesn’t seem to represent a specific building.