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Jacob van Ruisdael, A Bleaching Ground in a Hollow by a Cottage

Key facts
Full title A Bleaching Ground in a Hollow by a Cottage
Artist Jacob van Ruisdael
Artist dates 1628/9? - 1682
Date made probably 1645-50
Medium and support Oil on oak
Dimensions 52.5 × 67.8 cm
Inscription summary Signed
Acquisition credit Bequeathed by Sir John May, 1854
Inventory number NG44
Location Not on display
Collection Main Collection
Previous owners
A Bleaching Ground in a Hollow by a Cottage
Jacob van Ruisdael

In the seventeenth century, the linen bleaching fields of Haarlem were considered to be the best in Europe. Linen was an important fabric and to fetch the highest prices its natural beige colour needed to be bleached white. The flat fields and ready water supply in the rivers and canals around Haarlem were ideal for this protracted process.

This is one of several landscapes by van Ruisdael which feature bleaching, though it gives a more enclosed view of a smaller set-up than is shown in most of his paintings. One man stands in a ditch dunking the material with a stick. Another lays it out in strips on the bank next to him, while a woman appears to be overseeing the work. That sense of enclosure – a scene tucked away in the dunes and viewed from behind a tree – gives us the feeling that we are peering into a private world.

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