Jacob van Ruysdael: The Mill at Wijk-bij-Duurstede (ca. 1670); Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam.

This work by Jacob van Ruysdael depicts a typical Dutch landscape: a high, cloudy sky over a flat landscape, with lots of water and a prominent role for a characteristic windmill. Although the artist afforded himself some freedom in his portrayal of the scenery, Ruysdael’s painting offered a reasonably accurate impression of the landscape near Wijk bij Duurstede, a city in the central region of the Netherlands.
One element in the picture has led to a dispute among art historians: there seems to be something strange going on with the weather. The gloomy sky and the heavy clouds indicate severe weather, but the position of the mill’s arms and the slack sails of the boat suggest that there is not much wind. While some believe that the painting is simply unrealistic, others believe that Ruysdael just showed the precise moment before the storm will break out in full force.
The Haarlem-born Ruisdael, who lived between 1628 and 1682, was famous for his atmospheric impressions of nature, in which the elements seem to be involved in a dramatic battle with each other. Usually, people play a minor role in his expressive landscapes.
Many painters of the so-called Romantic Movement, like Caspar David Friedrich and William Turner, were inspired by Ruisdael’s work. Their admiration is understandable: in Ruisdael’s works, nature is not presented in a decorative way, but as an autonomous force. You could say he thus granted nature a personality, two centuries before this would grow into a fashionable artistic ideal.
(text: Maarten Gaillard)