Jacob van Ruisdael was born into a family of artists in Haarlem, near Amsterdam, and learned the trade both from his father Isaak and his uncle Salomon van Ruisdael. He was active during the Dutch Golden Age and is regarded as one of the paramount landscape painters of this epoch. The groundbreaking aspect of van Ruisdael’s art was how he expanded the landscape genre to include more than impartially recording the environs. Though he was trained in the classical style, he would add elements of fantasy and theatricality and thereby lay the foundation for romantic landscape paintings, which reached their apex during the first half of the nineteenth century.
Van Ruisdael specialized in maritime and urban landscapes, which often featured wide panoramas and low horizons, in addition to sylvan landscapes filled with groves, ruins, mills, and waterfalls. He was particularly fond of painting trees, and not least massive oaks, as can be seen in the painting at hand. Exemplifying Ruisdael’s more monumental landscapes, the painting takes in sea, sky, trees, mountains, and a field, but the dominating image remains the ancient oak, wizened and misshapen. The picture is undated, but such images are most typically found at a later stage in the artist’s career.
Van Ruisdael also painted so-called Norwegian landscapes, which were extremely popular in seventeenth-century Dutch landscape painting, thanks to artists such as Allart van Everdingen, who had himself visited Norway. J. C. Dahl would later on copy works by Jacob van Ruisdael while studying at the Academy of Fine Arts in Copenhagen, and the National Museum owns two of these copies.
Text: Vibeke Waallann Hansen
From "Highlights. Art from Antiquity to 1945", Nasjonalmuseet 2014, ISBN 978-82-8154-088-0