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A River Scene, with a Hut on an Island
Jan van Goyen
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This painting is a companion piece to Fishermen hauling a Net, which is exactly the same size and depicts a scene with three similarly positioned boats, a low horizon and high billowing clouds. However, the muddy island in the middle of this scene is more substantial and, as the title suggests, someone has built a hut on it.

There are many subtle differences between the two pictures. In this one it appears to be high water; in the other it is clearly low tide. And while both feature a windmill and a church in similar positions on the horizon, the church depicted in this painting has a tower rather than a spire. The boats are also being used for a different purpose here – not for fishing, but for transport. The rowing boat in the foreground is carrying passengers, while the larger sailing boat is a type used for transporting goods and people on inland waterways.

Key facts
Artist Jan van Goyen
Artist dates 1596 - 1656
Full title A River Scene, with a Hut on an Island
Series Two River Scenes
Date made 1640-5
Medium and support Oil on oak
Dimensions 37 x 33 cm
Inscription summary Signed
Acquisition credit Bequeathed by Mrs Elizabeth Carstairs, 1952
Inventory number NG6154
Location in Gallery Not on display
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Two River Scenes

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Both of these pictures are of identical size and seem to have been made to hang side by side. With a pair of paintings, Jan van Goyen could engage viewers in a more complex way than he could with a single picture. There are some striking similarities between the two: the low horizons, the islands or mudflats in the middle ground, the distant buildings, the angle of the navigation markers, the three boats in similar positions. But there are also subtle differences. The two distant churches may be at a similar point on the horizon, but one has a tower and the other a spire. One navigation marker has two balls at the top, the other just one.

Only by careful attention can we decide whether van Goyen has painted two different scenes or the same view at a different state of the tide. Perhaps he was suggesting that, in both landscapes and paintings, the more we look, the more we see.

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