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Jacob van Ruisdael

A painting of a crumbling castle along a river. A hill rises in the background and the sky is full of gray stormy clouds.

Jacob van Ruisdael. Landscape with the Ruins of the Castle of Egmond, 1650/55. Potter Palmer Collection.

Also known as
Jacob Isaacksz. van Ruysdael, Jacob Isaacksz. van Ruijsdael, Jacob van Ruysdael
Date of birth
Date of death

Jacob van Ruisdael, the foremost Dutch landscape artist of the late 17th century, mastered a wide variety of subjects—from waterfalls to dunes to woodlands to sweeping panoramas. Raised in Haarlem, the fabled birthplace of Northern landscape painting, he likely trained with his uncle Salomon van Ruysdael in the 1640s and finished his education while visiting Germany with his friend Nicolaes Pietersz Berchem. Around 1657, he moved to Amsterdam, where he would complete the majority of his work, including more than 700 paintings, 100 drawings, and 13 prints. While in Amsterdam he also took on his most prized pupil, Meindert Hobbema, who emulated Ruisdael’s large woodland scenes. 

In his paintings, drawings, and prints, Ruisdael captured the tension between man and nature in epic terms. The ambitious scale of the Art Institute’s Landscape with the Ruins of the Castle of Egmond is but one of the elements that he used to infuse drama into this scene. In this painting, Ruisdael lowers the horizon, emphasizing the monumentality of the castle and setting it beneath a moody sky. The greenery that subsumes the ruins and the rising diagonal that frames the scene positions nature as an uncontrollable force compared to man. Such a compelling reflection upon the passage of time would have appealed to the artist’s wealthy patrons in Amsterdam.  

Similar to his paintings, Ruisdael’s prints demonstrate a heightened sense of light and shadow. In his etching The Little Bridge the individual blades of grass and slats on the house in the foreground are depicted in painstaking detail, while the background remains untouched. Ruisdael does not economize his use of line, nor does he favor velvety shadows. Rather, his etched landscapes are precisely rendered and illuminated. His paintings and, to a lesser degree, his prints would impact the work of such esteemed landscapists as John Constable, Jean-François Millet, and Thomas Cole.

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