Pieter de Molijn

(London 1595 - 1661 Haarlem)

A Dune Landscape with Country Folk on a rutted Track

Signed and dated, lower left: PMolyn 1657 (PM in ligature)
Oil on panel, 15⅛ x 23⅝ ins. (38.3 x 60 cm)
Framed: 21½ x 29½ ins. (54 x 75 cm)
VP5081 


Provenance

Private collection, Germany, until 2023
Anon. sale, Neumeister Kunstauktionen, 7 December 2023, lot 590. 


Essay

Pieter de Molijn was born in London in 1595, but spent most of his career in Haarlem.  He is best remembered for his views of the sandy dunes around Haarlem.  Although his reputation has largely been eclipsed by his more famous colleagues, Jan van Goyen (1596-1656) and Salomon van Ruysdael (1600/03-1670), he was a key figure in the development of the so-called ‘tonal’ phase of Dutch landscape painting, and he was much admired by his contemporaries.  As early as 1621, he was mentioned by Samuel Ampzing in the second edition of his Het Lof der Stad Haerlem in Hollandt (Praise of the City of Haarlem in Holland) as being among the most important painters in the city, and in the third edition, Ampzing singled him out for praise, remarking upon the “deft brush and the pithy manner of Molijn”[i]

In this signed and dated painting of 1657, the eye of the viewer is led into the composition by means of a rutted sandy track that winds among the dunes.  Little groups of peasants move along the road in both directions, while a weary traveller rests at the side of the road, her small bundle of belongings and a stick lying on the ground.  Sheep graze among the sandy hillocks and a cluster of farm buildings huddles among some trees in the middle distance.  A narrow vista between two dunes allows a glimpse of the landscape beyond and a distant smudge of blue water.  Characteristic of the artist’s style are the bold, energetic brushstrokes and the palette of tawny yellows, warm browns and green. 

In the 1620s, together with fellow landscapists, Jan van Goyen and Salomon van Ruysdael, Pieter de Molijn pioneered the development of a new type of naturalistic Dutch landscape painting.  Beginning around 1626, Molijn led the way, painting unpretentious views of the countryside near Haarlem, using simple diagonal compositions and a restricted palette of greys, greens, browns, ochres and blue.  Van Goyen and Van Ruysdael were quick to follow suit, depicting sandy tracks in the dunes, with country folk resting by the roadside, or before a tumbledown dwelling, rendered in subtle tones suggestive of the atmosphere and humidity of Holland.  During the course of his career, Molijn’s landscape style did not change greatly, but in his later works, of which the present painting is a characteristic example, he introduced a richer colour scheme. 

Besides his landscapes, Molijn painted river landscapes, portraits, interiors, genre scenes and still lifes.  He was also a printmaker and a draughtsman of considerable talent. During the course of his career, he made hundreds of drawings, often in the medium of black chalk, many of which survive today.  The swirling lines and sinuous contours that characterise his landscape drawings find parallels in his painting technique. 

BIOGRAPHY

The son of Flemish immigrants, Pieter de Molijn was baptised in Austin Friars, the Dutch Reformed Church in London, on 6 April 1595.  By 1609, the family was in Amsterdam, where Pieter’s parents witnessed the baptism of the son of the Antwerp-born painter Hans van Kleef, however, they may not have been resident in the city at that time, they could simply have been visiting from nearby Haarlem.  The name of Pieter’s teacher is not known, but he is recorded as a master in the Haarlem Guild of St. Luke in 1616.  Two years later, he was in Rome, where he contributed a drawing to the album amicorum of the portrait painter Wybrand de Geest (1592-1667/80) with the inscription, “Pieter de Molijn in Rome 6 June 1618”[ii].  The date of his return home is not recorded, but Samuel Ampzing mentioned him in the 1621 edition of his Lof der stadt Haerlem in Hollandt, so he must have been back in Haarlem by then. In 1624, Pieter married Mayken Geraerts and joined the Reformed Church in Haarlem. Between 1624 and 1639, Pieter and his wife had eight children, two of whom died in infancy: their son Anthonie (1635-1702) became a landscape painter and member of the Haarlem Guild.  Molijn was a member of the civic guard in Haarlem in 1624, 1627 and 1630. In 1630, Pieter bought a house on the Oude Gracht for 3,100 guilders, where he lived for the rest of his life.  Between 1631 and 1649, he served repeatedly on the board of the Guild, either as warden or dean.  Pieter had a number of pupils, including his son Anthonie de Molijn, Gerard ter Borch (1617-1681) and Allaert van Everdingen (1621-1675).  He died in Haarlem in 1671 and was buried in the Grote Kerk. 

Pieter to Molijn enjoyed a solid reputation throughout his life.  As previously mentioned, he was praised by Samuel Ampzing in his 1621 and 1628 descriptive poems about Haarlem, and in 1648, in his history of Haarlem, Theodoor Schrevelius rated him on a par with Cornelis Vroom (c. 1591-1661), and somewhat above Salomon van Ruysdael[iii].  Writing in the early eighteenth century, Arnold Houbraken, still remembered him favourably as “an accomplished painter of landscapes, clear in the way he rendered distances and flowing in his foregrounds”[iv]


[i] Samuel Ampzing, Beschrijvinge ende lof der stad Haerlem in Hollandt (Description and praise of the city of Haarlem in Holland), Haarlem, 1628, p. 372.

[ii] Painting in Haarlem 1500-1850: The collection of the Frans Hals Museum, 2006, p. 246. 

[iii] Theodoor Shrevelius, Harlemum, sive urbis Harlemensis incunabula, increments, fortuna varia, in pace, in bello, Leiden, 1647, p. 294. 

[iv] Arnold Houbraken, De Groote Schouburgh der Nederlantsche Konstschilders en Schilderessen … 3 vols, Amsterdam 1718-21, vol. 1, p. 215.