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A lone tree, stark against the skyline, almost tumbles down the side of a dune. It seems to stand for the hard life led by farmers close to the sea in seventeenth-century Holland. But a patch of sunlight picks out two men on horseback, seemingly chatting, and a woman nursing a baby with a child beside her, suggesting that there is warmth and leisure even in this bleak landscape.
Close by, two men point out fishermen in a boat on the river. Further in the distance on a hillside, two men survey the mountains ahead. Wouwerman has included these for artistic effect: there are no mountains in Holland.
Jan Wouwerman was working in Haarlem and was probably influenced by his brother Philips, who in turn was influenced by Pieter van Laer. Van Laer had been to Rome, and painted scenes of Italian life in mountainous countryside. Jan Wouwerman evidently also took inspiration from the work of Jan Wijnants.
Philips Wouwerman and Jan Wijnants are both represented in the National Gallery’s collection: see the former’s A Stream in the Dunes, with Two Bathers and A Dune Landscape with a River and Many Figures, and the latter’s A Track by a Dune, with Peasants and a Horseman and A Landscape with a High Dune and Peasants on a Road.
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