Skip to main content
1 video

2021 August Picture of the Month

1
1:00

This striking painting by 17th-century Dutch artist, Meindert Hobbema, is a master class in perspective. 

Geometry underlies the composition. Our eyes are funnelled to the heart of the painting by the central avenue of trees, and the water-filled dikes that border them. The spindly alders form strong verticals that direct our eyes upwards to a vast sky, while the low horizon line emphasises the flatness of the Dutch landscape.

Our gaze is also drawn sideways into the landscape, through the track that turns off to the right (to which the dog seems lured) and the strong lateral lines of the paths and fields on the left.

Within this carefully composed grid, are numerous signs of Dutch labour and economy. From the trees ‘shredded’ of side-branches, ready for felling as poles, to the cart tracks on the dirt road, the ship masts in the distance, and the ditches that carry water to the orchard, where a man is pruning with a knife. Even the wilder, wooded area on the left, holds purpose as a hunting ground. Perhaps the man who walks towards us with his dog, and gun over one shoulder, is headed there.

Hobbema presents us with a tidy, rational world that is satisfying to look at, in its beauty, simplicity and calmness. The real world is less orderly, less comprehensible. Yet, this is not a secular painting. The steepled church dominates the distant town, as a symbol of faith. The painting is suggestive of the writings of the influential French philosopher Descartes, who argued that to present a rational world was to present a divine world, since reason is what makes man in God’s image. This rational and divine world to which Hobbema alludes, was the new order of the Dutch Republic after its independence from Spain, with its emphasis on land reclamation, commerce and honest labour.

The painting entered the National Gallery’s collection in 1871, when the Gallery acquired most of Sir Robert Peel’s collection. It’s likely that Pissarro saw it when it first went on display and before he left London in June 1871, inspiring his painting, The Avenue, Sydenham.

Later, in 1878, the English novelist Thomas Hardy (a regular visitor to the Gallery), wrote in his diary of ‘Hobbema’s view of a road with formal lopped trees and flat tame scenery and the presence of a human figure among them.’ Inspired by this motif of a small figure walking in an undramatic landscape, his novel, 'The Mayor of Casterbridge' opens with a young man, woman and child walking silently towards a village hiring fair.

With thanks to Nikon, Digital Content Partner 

Custom art print
'The Avenue at Middelharnis' is available to buy as a print from our online shop, with options for custom framing
Customise now

You might also like...

July 2021: Wineglasses
This languid summer scene by Singer Sargent is not as informal as it first appears
June 2021: The Mantelpiece (La Cheminée)
What does Vuillard’s mantelpiece reveal about the artist?
May 2021: Late Afternoon in our Meadow
Pissarro's shimmering afternoon in the countryside has been voted your picture of the month
April 2021: Venice: The Feast Day of Saint Roch
Canaletto's tribute to the saint who helped bring an end to the plague
March 2021: Stormy Landscape with Ruins on a Plain
A solitary walk through Georges Michel's brooding landscape
February 2021: View of Oudewater
A slow look at this scene of everyday life in a small Dutch town
January 2021: The Drunkard
Sorolla's penetrating but compassionate observation of drinkers in a Basque tavern
December 2020: Snow Scene at Argenteuil
Monet's scene of a Parisian suburb under snow has been voted your picture of the month
November 2020: Insects with Common Hawthorn and Forget-Me-Not
Van Kessel the Elder's cabinet of curiosities has been voted your picture of the month
October 2020: Miss La La at the Cirque Fernando
A soaring aerialist performs a magnificent feat but does this striking painting celebrate the performer or the painter himself?
September 2020: Margate (?) from the Sea
Turner's animated sketch of sea and sky has been voted your picture of the month
X
/
Y
Be the first to hear our latest stories
From peeks behind the scenes to in-depth looks at the nation's favourite paintings
Sign up