Hercules Segers (Dutch, Haarlem 1589/90 - between 1633 and 1638 The Hague [?])
The Enclosed Valley (Der Talkessel), ca. 1615-30
Etching printed in black on buff cloth with washes in brown, grey, blue-grey, and blue-green
4 1/4 x 7 5/8 in. (10.9 x 19.3 cm)
R. T. Miller, Jr. Fund and Mrs. F. F. Prentiss Fund, 1958
Hercules Segers, perhaps the most experimental printmaker of the seventeenth century, regarded each impression of a print as an individual work of art. He achieved radically varied effects through the use of colored inks and washes, and often printed on dyed paper or fabric to emphasize specific aspects of the image.
Mountain landscapes like The Enclosed Valley comprise the core of Segers's oeuvre of fifty-four etchings.1 Desolate valleys and plateaus, surrounded by barren, rocky mountains and precipitous cliffs, are seen from a high vantage point; the few trees, buildings, and isolated figures are dwarfed by the scale of this forbidding and inhospitable landscape. Segers was inspired in his mountain views not by any actual travels, but by the works of earlier artists.2 The most significant precursors for his landscapes were probably the alpine scenes of Pieter Bruegel the Elder (disseminated in prints published by Hieronymous Cock), and the wilder, more irregular rock formations in the mountain landscapes of Joos de Momper the Younger. Segers also looked to the works of Jacob Pynas (ca. 1585-1650?) for individual motifs and compositional formats.
Even more remarkable than Segers's haunting mountain scenery is his unprecedented experimentation with and manipulation of printmaking techniques. He frequently printed his etchings on prepared (hand-colored) paper or cloth, to enrich the color and texture of the impression. Many of his etchings are printed in colored inks; he also selectively painted individual sheets with watercolor washes to vary the effect of each impression, casting different parts of the composition into darkness or light in each permutation. Each impression is individual and unique, a conscious attempt by the artist to blur the traditional boundaries between painting, drawing, and printmaking. The Enclosed Valley has survived in more impressions (twenty-one, plus one counterproof) than any other etching by Segers, and is known in four states.3 Viewed as a whole, these impressions show the range of different moods and atmospheres Segers could cull from a single plate. The Oberlin impression is from the first state, before the areas of drypoint added in the second state. Like the seven other impressions of this state, it was printed on cloth: in this instance, a fine-textured fabric (linen?) primed in white, then toned or dyed light tan or buff. Watercolor was applied in zones, ranging from brown in the foreground areas to blue-green in the distance, similar to the schematic formulae for affecting aerial perspective employed in paintings by contemporary and earlier artists such as Joos de Momper.Several of the areas shadowed with applied color in the Oberlin impression (i.e., the right foreground) are reworked with drypoint in the second state; thus, as Haverkamp Begemann has noted, this impression "can to some extent be considered to represent a preparatory step towards the second state."4
M. E. Wieseman
One of the most innovative Dutch printmakers and landscapists of the seventeenth century, Hercules Segers5 studied briefly with the painter Gillis van Coninxloo (1544-1607) in Amsterdam before that artist's death in 1606. He joined the Haarlem guild of St. Luke in about 1612, but returned to Amsterdam two years later. The exact date of Segers's death is not known: he is mentioned as an art dealer in The Hague in 1633, but a document of 1638 describes his wife as a widow. Segers's landscape paintings are rare; he is best known for his powerfully evocative and technically innovative landscape etchings. His works had a profound influence on Rembrandt, Philips Koninck, and a number of other artists, and inspired a close imitator, the etcher Johannes Ruisscher (ca. 1625-after 1675).
Collins, Leo C. Hercules Seghers. Chicago, 1953.
Haverkamp Begemann, Egbert. Hercules Seghers. Amsterdam and The Hague, 1968.
Haverkamp Begemann, Egbert. Hercules Segers: The Complete Etchings. Amsterdam and The Hague, 1973.
Rowlands, John. Hercules Segers. New York, 1979.
Collection Jacob Houbraken (1698-1780)6
Collection August III, King of Poland and Elector of Saxony (1696-1763); acquired for him by Karl Heinrich von Heineken between 1746 and 1756
Collection Kupferstichkabinett, Dresden (Lugt 1647)
Collection Frits Lugt (acquired by exchange, 29 December 1923; inv. no. I1445; sold March 1940)
Private collection (Ochsenbein), New York (by May 1940)
Acquired through Richard Zinser, New York, in 1958
The Minneapolis, Institute of Arts, 1956-57. Prints 1400-1800: A Loan Exhibition from Museums and Private Collections. November - March (also shown at The Cleveland Museum of Art and The Art Institute of Chicago). Cat. no. 155.
Kenwood, London County Council, 1962. An American University Collection: Works of Art from the Allen Memorial Art Museum, Oberlin, Ohio. 3 May - 30 October. Cat. no. 63.
New Haven, Yale University Art Gallery, 1962-63. Color in Prints: Catalogue of an Exhibition of European and American Color Prints from 1500 to the Present. 11 October - 6 January. Cat. no. 26.
Boston, Museum of Fine Arts, 1980-81. Printmaking in the Age of Rembrandt. 28 October - 4 January (also shown at The Saint Louis Art Museum). Cat. no. 32.
Springer, Jaro. Die Radierungen des Herkules Seghers. Berlin, 1910-12, no. 12e.
Trautschold, E. In Ulrich Thieme and Felix Becker, eds., Allgemeines Lexikon der bildenden Künstler von der Antieke bis zur Gegenwart. Vol. 30. Leipzig, 1936, p. 447.
Haverkamp Begemann, Egbert. Hercules Segers: The Complete Etchings. Amsterdam and The Hague, 1973, pp. 23, 56, 71, cat. no. 13If.
Ackley, Clifford S. "Books in Review: Hercules Segers: The Complete Etchings by Egbert Haverkamp Begemann." The Print Collector's Newsletter 5, no. 4 (Sept.-Oct. 1974), pp. 93, 94 n. 3.
Stechow, Wolfgang. "Varieties of Landscape." Apollo 103, no. 168 (February 1976), p. 114, fig. 6.
Ackley, Clifford S. In Printmaking in the Age of Rembrandt. Exh. cat., Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, 1980, pp. 59-60.
Boon, K. G., ed. Hollstein's Dutch and Flemish Etchings, Engravings and Woodcuts ca. 1450-1700. Vol. 26. Amsterdam, 1982, p. 192.
Catalogues (mentioning print but not this impression)
Frenzel, J. G. A. "Hercules Zegers, Zeitgenosse Paul Potter's, Maler und Kupferstecher und Erfinder der Kunst...." Kunst-Blatt 10 (1829-30), no. 5.
Nagler, G. K. Neues allgemeines Künstler-Lexicon.... Vol. 22. Munich, 1852, p. 240, no. 5.
LeBlanc, Charles. Manuel de l'Amateur d'Estampes.... Vol. 4. Paris, 1890, p. 261, no. 5.
The primary support is a thin, lightweight linen fabric, sized with gelatin and primed with a thin layer of white lead. The top edge of the fabric is adhered to a sheet of paper trimmed to the same size as the print; side and bottom edges are hinged to this support. The image is printed in black ink, with thin watercolor washes applied in shades of blue and brown. At the top right recto, the mark of the Dresden print room (Lugt 1647) has been touched out with paint. The impression is clipped within the printed surface on all sides (almost certainly by the artist himself), and a borderline added at the left, top, and right sides.7
1. Egbert Haverkamp Begemann, Hercules Segers: The Complete Etchings (Amsterdam and The Hague, 1973), nos. 3-24; K. G. Boon, ed., Hollstein's Dutch and Flemish Etchings, Engravings and Woodcuts ca. 1450-1700, vol. 26 (Amsterdam, 1982), nos. 3-24. A total of 183 impressions are known from the artist's fifty-four plates.
2. On the artist's sources, see Egbert Haverkamp Begemann, Hercules Segers: The Complete Etchings (Amsterdam and The Hague, 1973), pp. 31-33.
3.Egbert Haverkamp Begemann, Hercules Segers: The Complete Etchings (Amsterdam and The Hague, 1973), pp. 71-73; see also K. G. Boon, ed., Hollstein's Dutch and Flemish Etchings, Engravings and Woodcuts ca. 1450-1700, vol. 26 (Amsterdam, 1982), pp. 191-94; and Clifford S. Ackley, in Printmaking in the Age of Rembrandt (exh. cat., Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, 1980-81), pp. 59-60.
4. Egbert Haverkamp Begemann, Hercules Segers: The Complete Etchings (Amsterdam and The Hague, 1973), p. 71.
5.Although the artist's name is sometimes now spelled "Seghers," on paintings and documents the artist consistently signed his name without an "h"; see Egbert Haverkamp Begemann, Hercules Segers: The Complete Etchings (Amsterdam and The Hague, 1973), p. 17 n. 1.
6. K.G. Boon ("Introduction," in Egbert Haverkamp Begemann, Hercules Segers: The Complete Etchings [Amsterdam and The Hague, 1973], p. 4) has suggested that the prints by Segers in Houbraken's collection may originally have belonged to the artist and theoretician Samuel van Hoogstraten (1627-1678), who included the earliest biography of Segers in his treatise, Inleyding tot de Hooge Schoole der Schilderkonst (Rotterdam, 1678).
7. On Segers's clipping and cropping of his own etchings, see Egbert Haverkamp Begemann, Hercules Segers: The Complete Etchings (Amsterdam and The Hague, 1973), p. 47.