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Jacob van Ruisdael

A Mountainous Landscape with a Waterfall and a Castle

Jacob van Ruisdael

Signed lower right: JvRuisdael (JvR in ligature)
Oil on canvas, 37 x 33⅞ ins. (94 x 86 cm)



Count Stard Adam Gottlob Moltke (1710-92), Copenhagen, by 1756
By descent to Count F. C. Moltke
His sale, Copenhagen, Winkel and Magnussen, 1-2 June, 1931, lot 116, reproduced
Sale, Copenhagen, 23 February 1993, lot 70, reproduced
Jointly with dealers Bob P. Haboldt & Co, Richard Feigen & Otto Naumann, New York, 1993
Private collection, U.S.A., 1999-2017


Gerhard Morell, Catalogue de tableaux de son Excellence Monsigneur le Comte de Moltke Comte de Bregentved, Copenhagen, 1756
Niels Henrich Weinwich, Udforlig raisoneret fortegnelse over en samling malerier i Kiobenhavn thilhorende Hs. Excellence Geheime Conferentsraad Greve F.C. Moltke, Copenhagen, 1818
N. Hoyen, Fortegnelse over den Moltkeske Malerisamling, Copenhagen, 1841
John Smith, A Catalogue Raisonné, etc., Supplement, vol. IX (London, 1842), p. 711, no. 94
C. Hofstede de Groot, A Catalogue Raisonné, etc., vol. IV (1912), p.79, no. 236
Jakob Rosenberg, Jacob van Ruisdael, Berlin, 1928, p. 83, no. 176
Seymour Slive, Jacob van Ruisdael: A Complete Catalogue of his Paintings, Drawings and Etchings, London, 2001, p. 177, no. 175, illustrated. 


Madrid, Fundacion Coleccion Thyssen-Bornemisza, The Golden Age of Dutch Landscape Painting, 1995, pp. 198-200, cat. no. 56. 


A waterfall cascades down a rocky mountainside strewn with boulders and tufted with trees, including a broken beech at the left.  At the upper right a castle with turrets and battlements surmounts a precipice, while farther down a lone traveller makes his way on a narrow mountain path.  At the lower right, a partly submerged log is trapped in the rapids.

Waterfalls, usually situated in rugged mountains, were Ruisdael’s favourite subject, constituting the largest single speciality in his varied oeuvre.  While these images often recall Scandinavian scenery, the artist is not known to have visited that region and most writers assume that he was inspired by the landscapes of Allart van Everdingen (1621-1675).  Everdingen visited Scandinavia in c. 1644 before settling in Ruisdael’s native Haarlem the following year.  As in the present work and many other paintings by Ruisdael, Everdingen’s northern waterfalls are often arranged on an upright format and feature cascading water, huge boulders and even on occasion, castles; compare, for example, his Mountainous Landscape with a Waterfall and Castle, Staatsgalerie, Stuttgart, inv. no. 363.  However Ruisdael enhanced the drama of his waterfalls with more theatrical lighting effects, steeper compositions in which virtually the entire foreground and as much as two-thirds of the scene is filled with crashing and foaming water, and a more descriptive account of the rocks, cascades and vegetation. Although none is dated with certainty, Ruisdael’s paintings of waterfalls are usually assigned to the late 1650s or 1660s, with the paintings on an upright format preceding those on a horizontal.  Among the artist’s waterfall paintings which most closely resemble the present work and which also include a castle, we count the two paintings in the Herzog Anton Ulrich-Museum, Braunschweig, nos. 377 and 378; the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam, no. A348; the Fogg Art Museum, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA, no. 19.532; and formerly in the Girardet Collection, Kettwig (see, respectively, Rosenberg 1928, nos. 142, 143 and 121; and for the reproductions in exh. cat. The Hague, Mauritshuis, Jacob van Ruisdael, also shown at Cambridge, Fogg Art Museum, 1981-82, figs. 44-47, cat. 34).

So intimately was Ruisdael’s art connected with the theme of the waterfall that the chronicler of artists’ lives, Arnold Houbraken (1721), and well as the Pietist poet, Jan Luyken (see his emblem entitled “Tot Verdooving” (Until Deafening) in Beschouwing der Wereld, 1708), suggested that his name (“Ruis-dael” translates literally as “noisy-valley”) was a play on the subject; for the literary passages and their translations, see J. Giltaij, in exh. cat. Amsterdam, Rijksmuseum, Masters of 17th Century Dutch Landscape Painting, also shown in Boston and Philadelphia, 1987-88, p. 451.  Beginning with Wilfred Wiegand (see Ruisdael-Studien: Ein Versuch zur Ikonologie der Landschaftsmalerei, unpublished dissertation, Hamburg, 1971, p. 255), several modern authors have suggested that Ruisdael's waterfalls have a symbolic dimension.  Citing Luyken’s emblem as well as biblical passages, Wiegand stressed that the waterfalls were symbols of transience and vanitas. The religious associations were amplified by Josua Bruyn (see exh. cat. Amsterdam/Boston/Philadelphia 1987-88, pp. 99-101), who interpreted the castle as an allusion to the “eternal city at Mount Zion.”  Finally, E.J. Walford (Jacob Ruisdael and the Perception of Landscape, New Haven and London, 1991, p. 143) concluded that these paintings were a “celebration of God’s illuminating all sufficiency in face of the constant inconstancy of all things under heaven.”  The catalogue of a small dossier show at Brunswick (Herzog Anton-Ulrich Museum, Jacob Isaacsz. van Ruisdael. “Wasserfall mit Wachtturm”-eine monographische Austellung, cat. by Jochen Luckhardt, 1991, esp. pp. 28-32) discussed the possible emblematic and symbolic meanings of the closely related waterfall painting in their collection.

Dr. Peter Sutton


Born in Haarlem, Jacob van Ruisdael came from a family of painters.  His father, Isaack Jacobsz. van Ruysdael  (originally called de Goyer), was a frame-maker, picture dealer and painter, while his uncle Salomon van Ruysdael, was the celebrated Haarlem landscapist.  The exact date of his birth is not known, but in a document of 1661 he is said to be thirty-two years old: however, this may be unreliable since the ages of some other painters mentioned in the same source are incorrect.  Jacob was probably a child of his father’s second marriage to Maycken Cornelisdr., which took place on 12 November 1628.  The name of his teacher is not recorded, but he may well have taken tuition from both his father and his uncle.  His earliest dated works are from 1646, though he did not apparently become a member of the Haarlem Guild of St. Luke until 1648.  Around 1650, he travelled to Westphalia near the Dutch-German border, probably in the company of the Italianate landscapist Nicolas Berchem, whom Arnold Houbraken described as a “good friend”.  By June 1657, Jacob had settled in Amsterdam, where he seems to have lived for the rest of his life, although the identified views in some of his pictures indicate that he also made trips to other parts of Holland.  According to Houbraken, he remained a bachelor all his life.  In 1667, the artist made two Wills at a time when he appears to have been very ill.  He was still living in Amsterdam in January 1682 and probably died there, but was buried in the church of St. Bavo in Haarlem on 14 March 1682. 

Jacob van Ruisdael

Haarlem 1628/29 - 1682 Amsterdam

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