Published: February 19, 2008
A landmark of Dutch landscapes, “Ferry on a River,” 1649, by Salomon van Ruysdael (1603‱670), and one of the finest private European holdings of Old Master drawings †the Wolfgang Ratjen collection of 185 Italian and German drawings †were acquired by the National Gallery of Art in late 2007. Salomon van Ruysdael’s masterpiece recently went on view in the West Building Dutch galleries. The gallery plans an exhibition of the Ratjen collection, accompanied by a complete scholarly catalog, within the next two years. Until then, works may be viewed by appointment.
Salomon van Ruysdael, one of the leading landscape painters of his generation, was renowned for the atmospheric effects he created in his images of life along peaceful Dutch waterways. In the 1640s, he helped lay the foundation for the classical period of Dutch landscape and influenced a generation of artists, including his nephew Jacob van Ruysdael, Meindert Hobbema and Aelbert Cuyp, who are well-represented in the gallery’s collection.
Salomon’s “Ferry on a River,” signed and dated 1649, is both imposing in scale (391/6 by 52½ inches) and visually compelling. It depicts a ferryboat filled with travelers, including some seated in a horse-drawn carriage, crossing a broad river near a turreted castle. A large clump of trees silhouetted against the windswept blue sky provides a framework for the animals and humans activating the scene. Light floods into this harmonious composition, illuminating the leaves of the trees as well as the distant sailboats and village church.
The acquisition, which was made possible with funds from the Patrons’ Permanent Fund and the Lee and Juliet Folger Fund, marks the first painting by Salomon van Ruysdael to enter the gallery’s collection. The painting was in the collection of the Dutch dealer Jacques Goudstikker before World War II and was recently restituted to the Goudstikker heirs, from whom the gallery acquired it in a private sale through the assistance of Christie’s, New York. Prior to its restitution, the painting had hung in the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam from 1960 until 2005.
The Ratjen collection includes 66 Italian drawings dating from the High Renaissance until the end of the Eighteenth Century and 119 German drawings dating from 1580 to 1900, which form a unique survey of works by the most important artists from the German-speaking areas of Europe, including Switzerland and Austria. Among the early Italian masterworks are a large mythological banquet scene by Luca Penni (1500/1504‱557) and the monumental Holy Family with the Infant John the Baptist by Pellegrino Tibaldi (1527‱596), one of the foremost artists working in papal Rome in the mid-Sixteenth Century.
The Italian works also include the watercolor “A Marmot with a Branch of Plums,” 1605, by Jacopo Ligozzi (1547‱627), the finest still-life draftsman at the court in Florence, as well as two fantastic designs for elaborate Medici banquet centerpieces by Stefano della Bella (1610‱664) and his large, elegant “Fall of Phaeton,” circa 1655. Among principal works from the Eighteenth Century are one of Giovanni Battista Tiepolo’s (1696‱770) most powerful studies of a male figure in red and white chalk on brilliant blue paper, as well as Canaletto’s (1697‱768) finest surviving drawing, “The Maundy Thursday Festival before the Ducal Palace in Venice,” circa 1766.
The National Gallery of Art is on the National Mall between 3rd and 9th Streets at Constitution Avenue NW. For information, www.nga.gov , 202-737-4215 or 202-842-6176 (TDD).
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