Amsterdam, baptised 31 October 1638–Amsterdam, 7 December 1709
Dutch landscape painter and draughtsman
Despite focusing on a narrow genre – the wooded landscape – Meindert Hobbema has achieved lasting fame. The son of Lubbert Meyndertsz (son of Meyndert), a carpenter, he seems to have taken the surname ‘Hobbema’ from an early age; it is unclear why. At the age of fifteen he, with his brother and sister, entered the Amsterdam orphanage. He left it in 1655 and joined the studio of Jacob van Ruisdael (1628/9–82), who was then living in Amsterdam, and remained with him for several years. Their styles are very close, especially in drawings; there are no signed Hobbema drawings, so there is still much confusion.1 Hobbema’s few surviving pictures from this period, however, reflect knowledge of the work of Cornelis Hendricksz. Vroom (1590/92–1661) and Salomon van Ruysdael (c. 1600/1603–70). Not until 1662 do his works show any influence of his master; but this was short-lived, and by the mid-1660s his own style had emerged, with dark foregrounds and light-filled middle distances. His favourite subject matter, the watermill, also emerged at this point, and appears in over thirty of his pictures. Whether it was intended to be taken as a symbol of the transience of human life or a wonder of modern industry is unclear. The rural landscape was Hobbema’s chosen theme; he attempted a cityscape only once, in The Haarlem Lock, Amsterdam (c. 1663–5; NG, London, NG6138) .2
After 1668 his output dramatically decreased. It is likely that his acquisition of the post of wine-gauger for Amsterdam customs at around this time significantly reduced his painting practice, and his late pictures lack invention compared to his earlier works. It was nevertheless during this late period that he produced his best-known work, The Avenue at Middelharnis (1689; NG, London) .3 His final years seem to have been miserable; he was buried in a pauper’s grave.
After his death Hobbema’s name remained in obscurity, but in the 19th century he returned to favour, for instance in the writings of the French art historian and art critic Théophile Thoré-Bürger (1807–69) and in the work of French painters;4 in England he was particularly influential on the Norwich School, especially on John Crome (1768–1821) and on John Constable (1776–1837).5 In 1850, at the sale of the collection of Willem II of Orange, King of the Netherlands (1792–1849), in The Hague, Richard Seymour-Conway (the 4th Marquess of Hertford (1800–1870), purchased A Watermill (Wallace Collection, London, P99) for ƒ27,000, a record price for a landscape.6 At the time of his death Bourgeois owned three paintings attributed to Hobbema, but only Wooded Landscape with a Water-mill is still considered to be autograph.7
Broulhiet 1938; Stechow 1968, pp. 76–9; Giltaij 1980, pp. 168–85, 203 (list of drawings), figs 42–4, 50–51; Sutton 1987c; Keyes 1995; Loughman 1996; Saur, lxxiii, 2012, pp. 436–7 (L. Pijl); Ecartico, no. 3731: http://www.vondel.humanities.uva.nl/ecartico/persons/3731 (June 5, 2017); RKDartists&, no. 38627: https://rkd.nl/en/explore/artists/38627 (June 5, 2017).
View of Amsterdam with the Haarlemmersluis and the Haringpakkerstoren, first half 1660s
canvas, oil paint 77 x 98 cm
bottom left of the middle : m hobb(.)ma
London, National Gallery (London), inv./cat.nr. 6138
The avenue of Middelharnis, dated 1689
canvas, oil paint 102 x 140 cm
: M. Hobbema f. 1689
London, National Gallery (London), inv./cat.nr. NG 830
DPG87 – Wooded Landscape with a Water-mill
Early 1660s; oak panel, 61.9 x 85.4 cm
Signed, bottom centre right: m Hobbema
?Desenfans sale, London, Skinner and Dyke, 28 Feb. 1795 (Lugt 5281), lot 23;8 Insurance 1804, no. 95 (‘A Landscape – Hobbima’, £250); Bourgeois Bequest, 1811; Britton 1813, p. 26, no. 268 (‘Small Drawing Room contd / no. 21, Landscape – Watermill & figures – P[anel] Hobbima’; 3' x 3'10").
Cat. 1817, p. 9, no. 155 (‘SECOND ROOM – East Side; A Landscape, with a Watermill; Hobbima’); Haydon 1817, p. 385, no. 155;9 Cat. 1820, p. 9, no. 155; Hazlitt 1824, p. 36;10 Patmore 1824a, pp. 182–6;11 Patmore 1824b, pp. 39–41, no. 153;12 Cat. 1830, p. 8, no. 131; Smith 1829–42, vi (1835), p. 159, no. 123, ‘Worth 500l.’; Jameson 1842, ii, p. 463, no. 131;13 Hazlitt 1843, p. 29;14 Ruskin 1843, pt ii, sec. v, ch. i (Of Water, as Painted by the Ancients), p. 336;15 Bentley’s 1851, p. 347;16 Denning 1858, no. 131;17 Denning 1859, no. 131 (‘It is one of the jewels of this Collection’); Lejeune, ii, 1864, pp. 546–7 (under ‘Plusieurs paysages’ (Several landscapes)); Ruskin 1873, v, pt vi (Of Leaf Beauty), ch. v (‘Leaf Aspects’), p. 37, fig. 3, pl. 54;18 Sparkes 1876, pp. 78–9, no. 131;19 Richter & Sparkes 1880, p. 76, no. 131 (foreground figures by another, unknown, artist);20 Wallis 1881, p. 222;21 Havard & Sparkes 1885, p. 209, no. 131 (‘an important work of this master’); Michel 1890a, p. 49;22 Richter & Sparkes 1892 and 1905, p. 22, no. 87; Thompson 1910–12, iii (1912), fig. 12; HdG, iv, 1911, p. 399, no. 82 (Engl. edn 1912, p. 381); Cook 1914, pp. 50–51, no. 87; Cook 1926, pp. 48–9, no. 87; Hennus 1936, p. 170 (fig.); Broulhiet 1938, pp. 211 (fig. 218), 406, no. 218;23 Cat. 1953, p. 22; Paintings 1954, pp. 6, ; Murray 1980a, p. 67; Murray 1980b, p. 15; Hemingway 1992, p. 250, fig. 84 (influence on Constable); Beresford 1998, p. 125; Dejardin 2009b, pp. 32–3; Jonker & Bergvelt 2016, pp. 102–3; RKD, no. 284653: https://rkd.nl/en/explore/images/284653 (June 12, 2017).
London/Leeds 1947–53, n.p., no. 24; London 1952–3, p. 66, no. 330; Warsaw 1992, pp. 82–3, no. 13 (C. Brown); Houston/Louisville 1999–2000, pp. 194–5, no. 68 (D. Shawe-Taylor).
Two-member oak panel. Warm ground. The paint is applied in thick impasto. The panel has a very slight horizontal ‘S’ warping; the join has been reinforced with a canvas strip and then back surface painted black. The paint is in excellent condition. There is very slight wear on the outlines of the leaves, in the roofs and behind the fallen trunk. The thick foreground foliage has some craquelure, but this is secure. The reflections of the houses appear to have become slightly warmer in tone due to the increased transparency of the paint layers. This painting is particularly well preserved. Previous recorded treatment: 1998, cleaned and restored, N. Ryder.
1a) Meindert Hobbema, Mills, signed Hobbema, panel, 53.5 x 79 cm. Present whereabouts unknown (Giroux, Brussels, 12 March 1927, lot 36).24
1b) Meindert Hobbema, The Bergkerk and the Watermill at Deventer, c. 1680, black chalk, brush and black ink and grey wash, 168 x 295 mm. Petit Palais, Dutuit Collection, Paris, D-Dut 96.25
1c) Meindert Hobbema, Mill with the Bergkerk at Deventer, signed and dated m. Hobbema f. 168(?), panel, 38.6 x 53.8 cm. Duke of Sutherland, on loan to the NGS, Edinburgh.26
1d) Meindert Hobbema, The Mills, c. 1664–8, canvas, 77 x 111 cm. Petit Palais, Dutuit Collection, Paris, P-Dut 905.27
2a) Copy: possibly by John Crome: watercolour (photo Witt).
2b) Copy: 19th century. Private collection, Suffolk.28
2c) Copy: Ralph Cockburn after DPG87, A Water Mill, c. 1816–20, aquatint, 171 x 234 mm (Cockburn 1830, no. 14), DPG .29
2d) Engraving by C. Carter, in Armstrong 1891–2, p. 68.
2e) John Cousen, details of the foliage in DPG87, wood engraving, in Ruskin 1873, v, fig. 3, pl. 54 and fig. 64.
Lent to the RA to be copied in 1846 and 1855.
This is a typical wooded landscape by Hobbema. He is known to have painted pictures of watermills in the vicinity of Singraven near Denekamp, but the mill here is quite different, and its location has not been identified. The buildings appear in another picture by Hobbema formerly on the Brussels art market (Related works, no. 1a). The costumes would indicate a date in the early 1660s, as proposed by Christopher Brown and confirmed by Bianca du Mortier.30
In his Modern Painters (1873 edn) Ruskin illustrated an engraving after some leaves in the foreground of this picture in order to criticize Hobbema for straying away from naturalism, accusing him of ‘a mechanical trick or habit of hand for true drawing of known or intended forms’.31 In one sense he is correct: Hobbema’s paintings are not naturalistic: rather, he modifies reality for the greater good of the composition. Illustrative of the way he worked is the comparison between a later drawing of a specific place, a watermill at Deventer, set in the town, and an earlier painting in which the mill is placed in the countryside (Related works, nos 1b, 1c). He probably made drawings of particular sites, and then played variations on them in his painted compositions.
While Wooded Landscape with a Water-mill is primarily a brilliant example of Hobbema’s landscapes, the relatively large figures on the near bank may be by another artist, as Denning already suggested in 1858.32 In 1982 Brown, following Broulhiet, thought they were all painted by Hobbema himself,33 but they are more distinctive than in most of Hobbema’s paintings. However an attribution to Adriaen van de Velde, for instance, is doubtful, as they do not look for instance like the figures by Adriaen van de Velde in Jan van der Heyden’s DPG155.
Although numerous pictures attributed to Hobbema passed through Desenfans’ and Bourgeois’ hands it has not proved possible to identify this one with any certainty. Mrs Jameson in 1842 sent a somewhat mixed message: ‘This is a beautiful picture, full of that rural repose which Hobbema conveyed as no other painter has done: but it gives no adequate idea of the charm of his finest works.’ In general the picture was appreciated at Dulwich. Even Ruskin was grudgingly laudatory, praising Hobbema for ‘a bit of decently painted water’ – if only in comparison to the way he thought Willem van de Velde had done in DPG68.34 Moreover in the 19th century it was twice selected to be copied by the students of the Royal Academy, and in the 20th century it was twice chosen to be illustrated in a selection of the Dulwich pictures (in 1912 and 1954).
Wooded landscape with a water-mill, c. 1660-1665
panel (oak), oil paint 61,9 x 85,4 cm
Dulwich (London), Dulwich Picture Gallery, inv./cat.nr. DPG87
Ralph Cockburn after Meindert Hobbema
Water mill, 1816-1820
paper, aquatint 171 x 234 mm
Dulwich (London), Dulwich Picture Gallery
1 Giltaij was the first to give a list with (seven) Hobbema drawings in an addendum of an article about the drawings of Ruisdael: Giltaij 1980, pp. 184–5, 203. Plomp (1997, pp. 357–8, no. 410) discusses Jacob Ruisdael’s drawing, The Water Mill (black chalk, brush and grey ink, 201 x 314 mm, Teylers Museum, Haarlem, R 38). This is a drawing belonging to a group of watermills which are attributed partly to Ruisdael and partly to Hobbema. Some scholars assume that they were made at the same time, but Giltaij dates the Ruisdael drawings 1650–60, and one of the Hobbema drawings 1664 and one 1680. See also emails between Michiel Jonker and Michiel Plomp, 29 and 30 Oct. 2012 (DPG87 file).
2 RKD, no. 236673: https://rkd.nl/en/explore/images/236673 (June 5, 2017); see also https://www.nationalgallery.org.uk/paintings/meindert-hobbema-the-haarlem-lock-amsterdam (April 16, 2020).
3 This is one of the masterpieces from the collection of Sir Robert Peel acquired for the NG in 1871; RKD, no. 188393: https://rkd.nl/en/explore/images/188393 (June 5, 2017); see also https://www.nationalgallery.org.uk/paintings/meindert-hobbema-the-avenue-at-middelharnis (April 16, 2020).
4 For the Dutch influence on French 19th-century landscape painting in general see Chu 1974.
5 For Crome see for instance Grove Scene, canvas, 47.6 x 65.1 cm (Norwich Museums Service, Norwich Castle Museum, 727.235.951): see Moore 1988, pp. 133–4, no. 91. For Constable’s involvement in borrowing from Dulwich pictures by Hobbema and Ruisdael for copying in the Royal Academy, see Evans 2014, p. 114, 212 (note 66). See also under Ruisdael, DPG168.
6 This painting had been acquired by the King in 1846, also for a substantial amount, ƒ24,000 or ƒ23,000: see Bergvelt 2004a, p. 60, no. 59; Hinterding & Horsch 1989, pp. 34, 88, no. 98.
7 The others are DPG9 (Vermeer van Haarlem) and DPG118 (Guillam Du Bois). Lejeune, ii, 1864, pp. 546–7, mentions as present in Dulwich College ‘Plusieurs paysages’ (several landscapes).
8 It has been suggested by Murray and others that the picture may have been lot 23 in that sale (‘Hobbenia [sic] – A Woody Scene’; no dimensions). It certainly cannot be lot 182 of Desenfans’ subsequent ‘Polish’ sale, as Desenfans 1802 (no. 111) says of that picture that it ‘possesses neither buildings, nor ruins unadorned either by rocks or majestic mountains, rivers or bridges, cascades or cattle but merely with a few trees and a chaste natural sky’. DPG87 may conceivably be the Hobbema ‘Landscape’ in Desenfans’ 1804 Insurance list, as most of the pictures mentioned in that list are still present at Dulwich.
9 ‘Minderhout Hobbima. Landscape, consisting of a watermill, small village, pond and other accessories, solidly and finely painted; rich and natural in its effect; without any effort to produce a factitious effect.’
10 ‘Here (to pass from one kind of excellence to another with kindly interchange) is a clear sparkling Water-fall, by Ruysdael [145 (DPG105)], and Hobbema’s Water-Mill [131 (DPG87)], with the wheels in motion, and the duck paddling in the restless stream. Is not this a sad anti-climax, from Jacob’s Dream to a picture of a Water-Mill? We do not know; and we should care as little, could we but paint either of the pictures. Entire affection scorneth nicer hands [quote from Spenser’s ‘Faerie Queen’]If a picture is admirable in its kind, we do not give ourselves much trouble about the subject. Could we paint as well as Hobbema, we should not envy Rembrandt: nay, even as it is, while we can relish both, we envy neither!’
11 ‘The style of Hobbima is more purely and exclusively natural than that of any other painter in any department – with the exception of Teniers; and accordingly, the feelings which his scenes excite differ scarcely at all from those excited by the actual scenes of Nature. […] The human figure represented must be taken from among those who are engaged in the actual tilling of the land – those of their families; a lady or gentleman, in such a scene, would be an impertinence. […] And he paints it almost as well as Nature herself does […] The principal effects of Hobbima’s pictures are always produced by some particular object […] seen in the half-distance, through an opening in the dark trees of the foreground, and by a light which falls almost exclusively upon them – the foreground being illuminated by reflected lights alone. […] I repeat, it is impossible for any thing to be more purely natural than the style of Hobbima. […] There are but three specimens of Hobbima in the Dulwich collection [82, 153, 168] – and neither of them are very capital. No. 153 is, however, an extremely pleasing one.
12 ‘Hobbima is even a more purely natural painter than Ruysdael […] I may say that Hobbima was, of all the artists that ever lived, the best qualified to depict the kind of scenery in question, because he was content to make Nature no more beautiful than he found her, and was capable of making her no less so. […] The specimen before us is far from being a favourable one of his style; and there are only two others in this Collection (Nos. 83 and 168), neither of which conveys an adequate notion of his peculiar merits.’
13 ‘This is a beautiful picture, full of that rural repose which Hobbema conveyed as no other painter has done; but it gives no adequate idea of the charm of his finest works […] Lord Hatherton, Lady Ford, and Sir Robert Peel, possess the three finest examples of his power I can recollect to have seen. […] His works had little value in his own country till the English had shown a decided predilection for them.’
14 See note 10.
15 §18. Their painful effect even on unobservant eyes. […] Perhaps the best way of educating the eye for the detection of falsehood is to stand before the Mill of Hobbima, No. 131 [DPG87], in which there is a bit of decently painted water, and glance from one picture to the other; when Vandevelde’s [DPG68, now considered to be after Willem van de Velde II] will soon become by comparison a perfect slate-table.’
16 ‘The “Watermill” by Hobbima, (No. 131), is probably the finest example of the painter’s genius that we have in this country. In none of his works does his wonderful power of painting foliage; his mastery over all the multitudinous intricacies of leaves, and twigs, and branches, appear more strikingly than in this. Perfect as the picture is in detail, the individual objects nowhere interfere with the general effect, which is magnificently broad, luminous, and forcible. As a specimen of consummate landscape painting, honest, genuine landscape painting from nature, this work might be studied with advantage, by the hour together. There is a little sunny glimpse, in the middle distance, of an old cottage and its outhouses, which is a perfect picture in itself.’
17 ‘The figures representing a Lady and a Gentleman listening to some itinerant musician were probably not painted by Hobbema. A. Van Der Velde, the Wouwermans brothers, Berghem, Lingelbach and others assisted him in this particular.’
18 §5 ‘Thus roughly drawn, and losing some of their grace, by withering, they, nevertheless, have enough left to show how noble leaf-form is; and to prove, it seems to me, that Dutch draughtsmen do not wholly express it. For instance Fig. 3, Plate 54, is a facsimile of a bit of the nearest oak foliage out of Hobbima’s Scene with the Water-mill, No. 131, in the Dulwich Gallery. Compared with the real forms of oak-leaf, in Plate 53, it may, I hope, at least enable my readers to understand, if they choose, why, never having ceased to rate the Dutch painters for their meanness or minuteness, I yet accepted the leaf-painting of the pre-Raphaelites with reverence and hope.’
19 ‘The out-of-doors effect is quite illusive […] mill-buildings […] their dark sides reflect into the calm water with wonderful truth and transparency.’
20 ‘Brilliant effect of light beyond the river; the shadowy parts in the foreground have unfortunately become dark. An important work of the master. The figures in the foreground have been painted by an artist whose manner is unknown, but those in the back, which he painted himself, harmonise well with the landscape.’
21 ‘By a contemporary and friend of Ruisdael, and conceived in a kindred spirit, is the “Woody Landscape with a Large Watermill” (No. 131). Though never perhaps reaching the more elevated inspirations of the elder painter, Hobbema was equally ardent in his study of nature, and was gifted with not less delightful executive power. This is certainly one of his happiest efforts. A journey from the Land’s End to see it would be amply repaid. While this picture lasts it might be held as a standard of excellence for our landscape-painters; as long as its extraordinary qualities are the object of study it would seem impossible for our school to degenerate. And one may feel proud in knowing these qualities are appreciated by English painters. Hobbema’s compositions are always distinguished for their naïveté; the example before us is a fine instance of the mastery which achieves the appearance of perfect artlessness. Deep down in some remote old-world province must be the mill that suggested the subject of this picture, with its comfortable farm-house, seen beneath luxurious oak branches; the clouds float softly by, the branches wave, the stream runs deep and slow, the water sparkles at the wheel, bright patches of sunlight glance on farm-yard, stream, and meadow; and all, by the dexterous, floating execution, is fused in one harmonious whole; one feels the air is full of pleasant country sounds, the splash of the mill-wheel, the life of the farm-yard, and the song of birds. To any one jaded with toil or city life the sight of this picture will bring peace and rest; it revives long-faded memories of happy, careless youth; it is continually renewing tonic without one tinge of bitterness. Such has been its influence in the past, such will it ever be, as long as endure the pigments laid on, some two hundred years ago, by the cunning hand of the great Hobbema.’
22 A Dulwich-College (no 131), un de ses nombreux Moulins à eau dans les bois; bien que la signature nous semble assez suspecte, les colorations sont plus franches et plus harmonieuses que dans la plupart des motifs analogues. (At Dulwich College (no. 131), one of his many Water mills in the woods; although the signature seems to us rather suspect, the colours are more truthful and more harmonious than in most similar subjects.)
23 Comme d’habitude ces personnages ont été attribués à un autre peintre inconnu, ils sont bien de la main de Hobbema. La signature du tableau a été suspecté par Michel. (As usual these figures were attributed to another, unknown, painter; they are however by Hobbema himself. The signature was doubted by Michel.)
24 See Broulhiet 1938, pp. 211 (fig. 219), 406, no. 219; adjugé 300.000 francs belges. This painting has different foliage and less prominent staffage.
25 Alsteens 2004, pp. 146–7, 330–31, no. 60 (J. de Los Llanos); Slive 2001, pp. 688–9, no. DubD46 (no Ruisdael).
26 Not on the NGS website; Slive 2001, pp. 688–9, under Dub.D46, fig. DubD46a (date 1680 or 1689); Williams 1992, p. 89, no. 24 (date 1681 or 1689); HdG, iv, 1911, p. 397, no. 77 (Engl. edn 1912, pp. 379–80).
27 Alsteens 2004, pp. 56–7, 329–30, no. 16 (M.-C. Boucher).
28 Letter from M. S. Hare to Giles Waterfield, 20 Aug. 1990, with photo (DPG87 file).
30 Brown in Waterfield & Brown 1992, pp. 82–3, no. 13. Email from Bianca du Mortier to Ellinoor Bergvelt, 25 Feb. 2015 (DPG87 file), where she describes all the costumes, as far as can be seen; according to her, the painter was someone who een beetje aanrommelt met de kostuums (messed around a little with the costumes).
31 See note 18, §6.
32 See note 17.
33 See note 30 (Brown) and note 23 (Broulhiet).
34 See note 15.