So far we’ve covered Italianate landscapes by two Frenchmen – Claude Lorrain and Hubert Robert – as well as an Italian, Giovanni Paolo Panini. We’ve also looked at some British landscapes, by John Constable and to a lesser extent, animal painter George Stubbs. Today we’re going to shift into Dutch landscapes to keep you on your toes, starting with Meindert Hobbema.
Sorry, Meindert Whobemma?
Well, he’s not exactly a household name, but he’s one of the finest landscape artists in history. I mean it! He was a pupil of the more-famous Jacob van Ruisdael, working in Amsterdam at the tail-end of the Dutch Golden Age of painting. Like so many other great artists, he wasn’t really appreciated in his lifetime, and it took about a hundred years before he came to any kind of prominence, with the English especially snapping him up for their collections. You’ll see more Hobbemas in English museums today than any other for that reason. For many years, Hobbema’s signature was replaced by art dealers with Ruisdael’s, in order to get better prices, even though Hobbema is arguably the better painter. For my money, Hobbema has more atmosphere, and his subtle use of chiaroscuro gives his dark woods and sunny streams nothing short of a poetic, fairy-tale quality.
So how do you pick out a Hobbema? Start with the subject matter. Does it look, well, Dutch? You won’t see ruins from antiquity. You won’t see Tuscan houses with terracotta roofs. You’ll see thatched or shake-shingle cottages and farmhouses, with trees like oaks, birches, maples and beeches, not palms or ferns or any kind of Mediterranean plants. The painting should be set in spring through fall (unlike, say, Avercamp or Brueghel before him, Hobbema did not seem to have an interest in snow!). Is it of a road leading to a pond, a stream, a mill on a pond or a stream, the woods, or a hedge? Is the perspective from, say, about ten to fifteen feet above the road, at a distance of about one to two hundred feet from the nearest building or trees?
Summer. Aerial perspective. Stream. Road. Building a hundred-plus feet away. Check, check, check, check, and check!
But that’s not even the easiest way to tell a Hobbema. It’s the trees. The man painted some squiggly trees. Don’t believe me?
Check this out:
Get a load of those trees!
Apart from subject matter and idiosyncratic trees, Hobbema is doing something interesting with the focal points of his paintings. In a lot of landscape paintings, you can sort of look anywhere. But Hobbema’s roads and streams “make” you focus down them, usually to buildings or a grove of trees in the back. (This is called linear perspective.) There’s an architectural quality to his paintings, which are almost all of wild countryside only partially tamed by man. In many Hobbemas, you’ll see small figures, usually in the center of the painting, going down the charted road, stream, etc., staying away from the “wild” edges of the frame.
As a final “cheat code,” look for clouds in his paintings. If there’s a Hobbema without puffy white clouds, I haven’t seen it!