This undulating countryside of ancient sand dunes, found around Haarlem, forms the background to the vast majority of paintings by local artist Jan Wijnants. But while he captured the spirit and atmosphere of these sand hills, he also – like most painters of the time – exaggerated for effect. The range of what look like mountains in the distance in this picture, for example, must have been based on a line of much smaller dunes.
In the foreground we see the broken stump of a small tree. Wijnants often used this motif in his paintings to give a greater sense of depth to the landscape, but generally on a much larger scale. Here the dune itself dominates the picture, and the cart track meandering around it creates the illusion of depth and draws our eye into what is a relatively small picture.
The Dutch city of Haarlem is about five miles from the coast. It is separated from the North Sea by a range of high dunes formed by sand which has, over millennia, been blown inland from the beaches and overgrown with grass, scrub and woodland. This is the undulating countryside that forms the background of the vast majority of paintings by Jan Wijnants, who lived and worked in and around Haarlem.
But while he captured the spirit and atmosphere of these impressive sand hills, he also – like most painters of the time – exaggerated for effect. Here, the range of what look like mountains in the distance beyond the church spire, for example, must have been based on a line of much smaller dunes. It isn’t just the scale that Wijnants manipulated. The same purples, greys and blues he used to evoke the mist hanging in the valleys between these distant hills also depict the clouds billowing above. This adds to an impression of grandeur, but also gives us the feeling that there is moisture, perhaps rain, in the air; the diagonal brushstrokes in the sky just above the hills certainly give the sense of a passing shower. Recent rain has perhaps produced the muddy puddle in the foreground, too.
Wijnants used a very different painting technique for the trees, stippling with the end of the bristles to create an impression of leaves with light filtering through them. For the bluish dune grasses, which are much closer to us on the dune, he picked out individual blades with short flicks of paint. The foliage in the foreground is depicted with even more precision, the contours and underside of the leaves rendered in tiny dabs of different shades of green.
We also see the broken stump of a small tree in the foreground. Wijnants often used this motif in his paintings, but generally on a much larger scale and in a way which framed the composition and helped give a greater sense of depth to the landscape. Here it is much less noticeable. Instead, the dune itself dominates the picture, bathed in a patch of summer sunshine, a convenient resting place for the seated couple. The cart track meandering around it and the decreasing size of the figures create the illusion of depth and draws our eye into what is a relatively small picture, only a little over a foot wide. The figures are probably not by Wijnants, but by a specialist figure painter from Amsterdam, Jan Lingelbach, who often worked with him.
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