Dutch and Flemish Art

Meindert Hobbema (Dutch, Amsterdam 1638 - 1709)
A Pond in the Forest, 1668
Signed and dated at bottom right: m Hobbema/f 1668
Oil on panel (oak)
23 5/8 x 33 1/4 in. (60 x 84.5 cm)
Bequest of Mrs. F. F. Prentiss, 1944
AMAM 1944.52

Listen to a podcast about this artwork here

Meindert Hobbema specialized in painting wooded landscapes inspired by the flat countryside of the eastern region of the Dutch Republic. In unusually fine condition, this superb example focuses on pure landscape forms and diminishes the traces of habitation and cultivation found in most of his paintings.

Almost without exception Hobbema's subject matter was drawn from the heavily wooded landscape of the eastern Netherlands. The majority of his paintings fall into the following categories: 1) dirt roads by farms in woods; 2) water mills near or set back into woods; 3) pools at the edge of woods, usually with farms or villages in the distance; and 4) ruins in woods. A Pond in the Forest belongs to the third category, but is unusual for the absence of any domestic architecture.

Hobbema's stylistic development, from his early years through 1671, can be established through dated paintings.1 His initial influence was Jacob van Ruisdael (ca. 1628-1682), yet even in his early works Hobbema demonstrated a certain independence. As his style evolved, he began to concentrate on landscapes with stately deciduous trees set before a dramatic canopy of clouds. As Stechow recognized, Hobbema's Wooded Road with Cottages of 1662, in the Philadelphia Museum of Art, represents a milestone in the artist's oeuvre; it includes all the classic ingredients associated with Hobbema landscapes--mature deciduous trees in full leaf, farms partly screened by trees and shrubs, and a boldly patterned cloudy sky that silhouettes the trees. The figures wandering along the dirt road become incidental staffage.2

Shortly after 1662 Hobbema produced the first of his water mill compositions, including the well-known pictures in Chicago, Toledo and the Wallace Collection.3 At the same time he also painted many representations of farmhouses along dirt roads in the woods.4

During the later 1660s Hobbema began to minimize the presence of man within his vast vistas of woods and sky. For example, his A Woody Landscape of 1667, now in the J. Paul Getty Museum in Malibu, lacks any prominently visible buildings.5 One year later, in the dated A Pond in the Forest at Oberlin, there are no buildings at all and attention is focused on the dynamic interaction between the sharply silhouetted trees, the partially screened, deep vista and the magnificent cloudy sky. By eliminating much of the undergrowth between the trees, the artist presents the viewer with a far greater sense of vast continuous space than in his earlier works.6 He opened his landscape vistas in this manner in other paintings as well, notably in the somewhat later Wooded Landscape with a Water Mill, in The Minneapolis Institute of Arts.7

The one conspicuous reminder of human enterprise in the Oberlin painting is the sluice to the left. In all likelihood sluiceways were part of the water systems serving water mills. Thus, A Pond in the Forest may be associated stylistically with several pictures in which the artist represents the water mills at the Singraven estate at Denekamp in the province of Drenthe. The characterization of trees, the reduction of undergrowth, and the cloudy sky are particularly comparable to his Landscape with a Stream and Several Water Mills in the National Gallery in London.8 Conceivably the Oberlin painting represents Hobbema's response to the stately forests of this eastern region of the Dutch Republic and constitutes a prelude to his views of the water mills at Singraven.

A Pond in the Forest has a distinguished provenance. Edward Drummond Libbey of Toledo acquired this painting in 1914. Libbey's interest in Hobbema paralleled that of many of the greatest American collectors of old master paintings during the "Gilded Age." For these collectors Hobbema was one of the most eagerly sought-after names. His stately concept of landscape represented a prosperous and untroubled world that doubtlessly appealed to these American collectors whose industrial pursuits involved them in the transformation of the United States during these turbulent years. Indeed, many of the greatest Hobbemas in the United States were once owned by Henry Clay Frick, Henry B. Marquand, Peter E. O. Widener, Andrew Mellon, and Mr. and Mrs. Charles Taft. As a result of their collecting efforts, museums such as the Frick Collection, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, the National Gallery of Art, the Taft Museum, and Oberlin all possess important pictures by the artist.

G. S. Keyes

Biography
Hobbema was baptized Meindert Lubbertsz on October 31, 1638, and later adopted the surname Hobbema. His mother died when he was a child and he and his two younger siblings were placed in the care of the Amsterdam orphanage. By 1655 Hobbema had left the orphanage and, presumably soon thereafter, entered the household of Jacob van Ruisdael, who became his mentor and presumed teacher. In July 1660 Ruisdael testified that Hobbema had served and studied with him for several years and was a man of good character.

In 1668 Hobbema was appointed one of the winegaugers (wynroyers) of Amsterdam, a socially prestigious sinecure which he held until his death on 7 December 1709. He was buried in the cemetery of the Westerkerk, the same church in which Rembrandt had been interred forty years earlier.

Virtually all of Hobbema's most important paintings date from the 1660s. He produced little after 1671, except for what has become his most celebrated picture, The Avenue at Middelharnis, dated 1689, now in The National Gallery in London.

General References
Hofstede de Groot, Cornelis. A Catalogue Raisonné of the Most Eminent Dutch Painters of the Seventeenth Century. Vol. 4. London, 1912, pp. 351-451.

Stechow, Wolfgang. Dutch Landscape Painting of the Seventeenth Century. London, 1966, pp. 76-80.

Sutton, Peter C. In Masters of 17th-Century Dutch Landscape Painting (exh. cat., Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam, 1987), pp. 345-54.

Provenance
Collection John Smith, London (by 1825)

Collection Michael Zachary, London (acquired from John Smith in 1825 for 600 gns.)

Collection Frederick Perkins, London (1835)

By descent to George Perkins, London

His sale, London (Christie's), 14 June 1890, lot 7 (3,300 gns.; catalogue illustration engraved by P. Teyssonier)

Collection H. M. W. Oppenheim, London

His sale, London, 13 June 1913, lot 53 (£15,750 to Emerson)

Collection Edward Drummond Libbey, Toledo (acquired in 1914)

With Martin Knoedler & Company, New York (1916)

Collection Mrs. Dudley P. Allen (later Mrs. F. F. Prentiss), Cleveland, acquired from Knoedler in 1916

Bequeathed by her in 1941

Exhibitions
London, British Institution, 1817. Cat. no. 54.

New York, M. Knoedler & Company, Inc., 1954. Paintings and Drawings from Five Centuries: Collection Allen Memorial Art Museum. 3 - 21 February. Cat. no. 47.

New York, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1954. Dutch Painting: The Golden Age. 28 October - 15 December (also shown at Toledo Museum of Art and Art Gallery of Toronto). Cat. no. 43.

Buffalo, Albright-Knox Art Gallery, 1957. Trends in Painting 1600-1800. 2 October - 3 November. Unnumbered cat., pp. 32-33.

Literature
Smith, John. A Catalogue Raisonné of the Most Eminent Dutch, Flemish and French Painters. Vol. 6. London, 1835, p. 133, no. 62.

Waagen, G. F. Treasures of Art in Great Britain. London, 1854, vol. 2, p. 336.

Hofstede de Groot, Cornelis. A Catalogue Raisonné of the Most Eminent Dutch Painters of the Seventeenth Century. Vol. 4. London, 1912, pp. 423-24, cat. no. 218.

Valentiner, William R. "The Hobbema from the Oppenheim Collection." Art in America 2 (1914), pp. 165-66.

Broulhiet, Georges. Meindert Hobbema. Paris, 1938, p. 435, no. 438, ill. p. 321.

"The Prentiss Bequest." Allen Memorial Art Museum Bulletin 1, no. 2 (1944), p. 35, no. 51, ill. p. 70.

Faison, Lane. "Art." The Nation, 10 November 1954, p. 449.

Dutch Painting: The Golden Age. Exh. cat., The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 1954, cat. no. 43.

Trends in Painting, 1600-1800. Exh. cat., Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, N. Y., 1957, pp. 32-33.

Stechow, Wolfgang. "The Early Years of Hobbema." Art Quarterly 22 (1959), p. 15.

Stechow, Wolfgang. Dutch Landscape Painting of the Seventeenth Century. London, 1966, p. 78, fig. 156.

Stechow, Wolfgang. Catalogue of European and American Paintings and Sculpture in the Allen Memorial Art Museum, Oberlin College. Oberlin, 1967, pp. 74-75, fig. 69.

Stechow, Wolfgang. "Varieties of Landscape." Apollo 103, no. 168 (February 1976), p. 113, fig. 9.

Mittler, Gene A. Art in Focus. Peoria, Ill., 1986, p. 40, fig. 3.1.

Sutton, Peter C. Dutch Art in America. Grand Rapids, Mich., 1986, p. 210.

Keyes, George S. "Meindert Hobbema's Wooded Landscape with a Water Mill." The Minneapolis Institute of Arts Bulletin 67 (1995), p. 51, fig. 10.

Technical Data
This painting is on a joined, cradled oak panel which was thinned leaving no bevelling along the edges on the verso. The transverse members of the cradle have been thinned, causing the oak support to bow slightly. The fine ground, probably comprised of glue and chalk, has become transparent, revealing the wood grain in places. The blue sky is comprised of a thin layer of smalt that has not lost its coloration, but has become transparent over time. The remaining pigments are more thickly applied, and tend to be pastier, with evidence of visible brushwork. By good fortune the greens have not deteriorated; as a result the foliage remains resonant and displays the subtle modulation of tone that enhances the intended three-dimensionality of the tree crowns and the sense of sparkling light.

In 1951 a light wax moisture barrier was applied to the back of the panel, and in 1953 a yellowed natural resin varnish was removed and replaced with a standard PVA synthetic varnish. Subsequently this was replaced with an experimental high polymer varnish (27H) that, to date, shows no signs of opacity or yellowing.9 Whereas most of Hobbema's works on panel have deteriorated seriously, A Pond in the Forest is remarkably well preserved, and is rightly considered one of the artist's masterpieces.

Footnotes
1. See Wolfgang Stechow, "The Early Years of Hobbema," Art Quarterly 22 (1959), pp. 3-18; and George S. Keyes, "Meindert Hobbema's Wooded Landscape with a Water Mill," The Minneapolis Institute of Arts Bulletin 67 (1995), pp. 42-57.

2. Oil on canvas, 107 x 130.8 cm, Philadelphia Museum of Art, inv. E' 24-3-7; see Wolfgang Stechow, "The Early Years of Hobbema," Art Quarterly 22 (1959), pp. 3, 10; and Peter C. Sutton in Masters of 17th-Century Dutch Landscape Painting (exh. cat., Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam, 1987), cat. no. 44.

3. Oil on canvas, 81.3 x 109.9 cm, The Art Institute of Chicago, inv. 1894.1031; oil on canvas, 94.9 x 131.8 cm, Toledo Museum of Art, inv. 67.159; and oil on panel, 69.2 x 92.1 cm, London, Wallace Collection, inv. P99. Reproduced in George S. Keyes, "Meindert Hobbema's Wooded Landscape with a Water Mill," The Minneapolis Institute of Arts Bulletin 67 (1995), pp. 44-46, figs. 3, 5, and 6, respectively.

4. Oil on canvas, 84.1 x 111.8 cm, The Cleveland Museum of Art, inv. 42.641; oil on panel, 76.2 x 110.5 cm, New York, Frick Collection, inv. 02.1.73; and oil on canvas, 93.1 x 127.8 cm, Washington, D. C., National Gallery of Art, inv. 1937.1.62.

5. Oil on panel, 61 x 85.1 cm, J. Paul Getty Museum, inv. 84.PB.43. Hobbema adumbrates this direction in his Wooded Landscape of 1663 (oil on canvas, 94.7 x 130.5 cm, Washington, D. C., National Gallery of Art, inv. 1937.1.61), in which the roof of the distant farm is almost entirely obscured from view. See George S. Keyes, "Meindert Hobbema's Wooded Landscape with a Water Mill," The Minneapolis Institute of Arts Bulletin 67 (1995), p. 44, fig. 2; and Arthur K. Wheelock, Jr., Dutch Paintings of the Seventeenth Century (The Collections of the National Gallery of Art Systematic Catalogue) (New York and Oxford, 1995), pp. 117-20.

6. Hobbema's Hut Among Trees (oil on canvas, 96.5 x 108 cm, Washington, D.C., National Gallery of Art, inv. 1942.9.30) anticipates this development; reproduced in George S. Keyes, "Meindert Hobbema's Wooded Landscape with a Water Mill," The Minneapolis Institute of Arts Bulletin 67 (1995), p. 48, fig. 8; Arthur K. Wheelock, Jr., Dutch Paintings of the Seventeenth Century (The Collections of the National Gallery of Art Systematic Catalogue) (New York and Oxford, 1995), pp. 120-23.

7. Oil on canvas, 102.2 x 134.6 cm, The Minneapolis Institute of Art, inv. 412; reproduced in George S. Keyes, "Meindert Hobbema's Wooded Landscape with a Water Mill," The Minneapolis Institute of Arts Bulletin 67 (1995), p. 42, fig. 1.

8. Oil on panel, 60 x 84.5 cm, London, National Gallery, inv. 832; reproduced in George S. Keyes, "Meindert Hobbema's Wooded Landscape with a Water Mill," The Minneapolis Institute of Arts Bulletin 67 (1995), p. 52, fig. 14.

9. For a detailed discussion, see the condition report and treatment proposal by Richard D. Buck dated 25 September 1953 (ICA 31/53) and the letter from Buck to Charles Parkhurst dated 20 January 1958, with additional correspondence on 27H varnish from Buck to John Walker, National Gallery of Art, dated 3 January 1954, and from Robert Feller, Mellon Institute for Industrial Research, to Buck, dated 8 August 1957; museum files.