Room 19

Land and water

Landscape has always played a vital role in painting. Until the 16th century this was almost exclusively as the (often imaginary) backdrop for biblical or mythological subjects. It was in 16th-century Flanders that landscape evolved into an independent genre. Flemish immigrant artists introduced these recent developments to the fledgling Dutch Republic. It is thus that a country characterised by an ostensibly uninspiring flat landscape, much of it not even rising above sea level, produced some of the greatest landscape painters in Western art. 

17th-century Dutch landscapes look convincing and indeed often find their origin in drawn studies made directly after nature. Most of them, however, were invented in the artist’s studio. This is even true of townscapes showing identifiable buildings. The Dutch recognised the importance of land and water to the country’s considerable wealth. They delighted in the land they inhabited, and they were proud to be the world’s most powerful seafaring nation. Dutch landscape painters gave expression to this pride, but they never failed to use their imagination to enhance the balance and harmony of what they observed.