Jan van Goyen is considered among the greatest and most prolific of seventeenth century Dutch landscapists. van Goyen’s early works, those executed prior to 1626, were clearly influenced by his most important teacher, Esias van de Velde, the first Dutch painter to abandon the mannerisms of the Flemish style in favor of more naturalistic landscape views. He then began to paint in the new Haarlem landscape idiom, distinguished by its atmospheric quality and monochromatic palette, richly varied in tone.van Goyen, Pieter de Molijn and Salomon van Ruysdael were the principal exponents of this style of painting.
van Goyen was born in Leiden in 1596, and from 1606, he studied with Leiden painters Coenraet van Schilperoort, Isaac Claesz. van Swanenburgh, Jan Arentsz. de Man and the glass-painter Cornelis Cornelisz. Clock. He then studied for two years with Willem Gerritsz. at Hoorn. van Goyen then went back to Leiden and worked on his own; at the age of about nineteen he traveled in France for a year, and from 1617-18 he was the pupil of Esaias van de Velde in Haarlem. In 1618, Van Goyen returned to Leiden where he married Annetje Willemsdr. Van Raelst. van de Velde strongly influenced the style of van Goyen’s early paintings from 1620 to 1626. As an artist he developed an early interest in drawing, finding it less expensive than painting and faster to produce. When he did become a successful painter, he continued to use his skills in drawing, making on site sketches while traveling in the major Dutch towns. He visited Delft several times,and was deeply inspired by its architectural motifs.
In 1632, van Goyen moved to The Hague, where he acquired citizenship in 1634. During that same year he worked in Haarlem, painting in the house of Isaac van Ruysdael, the brother of Salomon. During the 1630s, van Goyen, along with other artists, developed a new approach to landscape painting that focused on local subjects and employed a tonal palette. This new approach heralded the golden age of Dutch landscape painting. He was a hoofdman of The Hague Guild in 1638 and 1640, and in 1651, he painted a panoramic view of the town for the Burgomasters’ Room in The Hague Town Hall, for which he received 650 guilders. In 1649, both his daughters were married to artists, Margaretha to Jan Steen and Maria to the still-life painter Jacques de Claeu.
In spite of his statute and authority as a major master, van Goyen had difficulty in selling his works throughout most of his career and he constantly tried to improve his financial status. His effort at investing in tulip bulbs was a notorious disaster and he fared only somewhat better in his property speculations. Between 1620 and 1650, Van Goyen painted around sixty landscapes of a circular format, but the majority of these date from the 1620s and are thus largely traced to his Leiden period. Circular panels were a popular support among Flemish landscapists since the sixteenth century.
The technique of van Goyen is often revealed only upon close examination of his paintings. Beginning with a support of thin oak wood, van Goyen would apply several layers of animal glue, and with a blade, scrape a layer of white paint over the surface. Then he tinted the work with brown, red, or yellow ochre color. On this surface he sketched the scene to be painted, often using walnut ink. Many times one can see the ink on the thinly painted areas of the canvas. His palette is a characteristic combination of grays, umbers, and greens. Dark areas of the paintings are generally thin while the lighter parts carry more opaque pigment.