Tuesday, 29 November 2016

Jacob van Ruisdael’s etching, “The Great Beech with Two Men and a Dog”, c. 1651–55


Jacob Isaaksz van Ruisdael (also “Ruysdael”) (c.1629–82)
“The Great Beech with Two Men and a Dog”, c. 1651–55, from McCreery’s 1816 edition of “200 Etchings” pulled from the original plates
Etching on fine wove paper trimmed on or within the platemark (as published by McCreery) and lined onto a conservator’s support sheet
Size: (sheet) 19.7 x 28.3 cm
Inscribed in lower margin: "Ruisdael f.".
State II (of II)

The British Museum offers the following description of this print:
“Two farmers with their dog; landscape with the farmers on a road in lower left, walking through a forest, a mature and gnarled tree in right foreground. c.1650” (http://www.britishmuseum.org/research/collection_online/collection_object_details.aspx?objectId=3097027&partId=1&searchText=ruisdael&page=3)
Slive EII; Bartsch I.312.2; Hollstein 2.II

Condition: crisp, richly inked and rare impression. The upper right corner has been reattached on the conservator’s support sheet and there is a small loss to the left margin and a reattached section to the left margin; otherwise, the sheet is in excellent condition (i.e. there are no stains, folds, foxing or signs of use).

I am selling this very beautiful impression of one of Ruisdael’s most celebrated etchings for AU$400 in total (currently US$298.38/EUR281.44/GBP239 at the time of posting this listing) including postage and handling to anywhere in the world. If you are interested in purchasing this very famous original etching by the almost legendary old master, Jacob van Ruisdael, please contact me (oz_jim@printsandprinciples.com) and I will send you a PayPal invoice to make the payment easy.


Artists’ relatives are sometimes responsible for dreadful acts to prints so let me begin …

I remember reading somewhere—and my memory could be playing tricks on me—that Ruisdael’s son thought that his dad’s original composition for this print lacked “finish” and decided to add what he believed to be necessary improvements; that is, he decided to fix up his father’s print by reworking it. 

(Note: many writers are not specific about who reworked this plate and use the broad description: “by other hands”. Their generic description of the culprit(s) may be appropriate as Weigel (1843) and Dutuit (1885) propose that there was a third state with further reworking. Notwithstanding these writers’ proposal of further reworking of the plate, Jonas Umbach [1624–93] made a reverse copy of Ruisdael’s print featuring the details of the reworked plate as shown here and this confirms that the changes were made within a few years of Ruisdael’s death. Seymour Slive’s (2001) in his catalogue raisonné on Ruisdael [pp. 604–05] discusses these issues.)

To solve what his son perceived to be a lack of pictorial information in the upper left of the sky, he added the cumulus clouds using very clumsily laid horizontal strokes in the surrounding sky to make the clouds appear fluffy white. The son also perceived that the original composition (i.e. state i) lacked tonal variety. In a sense this is true, because his father bit the printing plate with acid only twice to achieve the dark tone of the foreground tree and the light tone of the distant trees. To remedy this perceived shortfall, the foreground tree was enlivened with darker lines. Clifford S Ackley (1981) in his fabulous, “Printmaking in the Age of Rembrandt”, offers the following insight about these lines: “Heavier etched shading outline the fallen tree trunk and the rock, so that they stand out as separate entities rather than forming part of a painterly unity” p. 227).

Regarding the wriggly lines in the sky at the top right, these are not by Ruisdael’s son. Instead, they are accidents—arguably serendipitous—resulting from craquelure breaks in the etching ground. This fault is not uncommon and De Groot (1979) points out that this issue also occurs in Rembrandt’s “The Little Stink Mill”—a windmill (see Slive [2001], p. 604).





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