Jacob van Ruisdael is often regarded as the finest Dutch landscape artist of the seventeenth century, and as one of the most influential Dutch artists internationally at that time. Unlike many artists, he did not specialise in a particular landscape type, but painted a wide variety of subjects – including seascapes, townscapes and winter scenes – with equal passion and virtuosity. Instead of painting idyllic landscapes, Ruisdael charged his subjects with strong spiritual and moralising content. His best works combine high drama with a degree of realism, which makes his scenes appear familiar and believable.
Ruisdael was widely travelled in his own country and elsewhere in northern Europe, and the sights he saw fuelled his imagination. Such is the case with The watermill, the model for which has been identified as a type of mill used in the Veluwe region of the Netherlands, near Apeldoorn. The existence of a drawing by Ruisdael (Teylers Museum, Haarlem), also datable to c. 1660 and depicting the mill seen in the National Gallery of Victoria’s painting, indicates that the artist sketched his subject in situ and then later juxtaposed it against a dramatically stormy sky. Ruisdael’s compositions often included manmade structures as symbols of the impact of humanity on nature. In some paintings, however, the situation is reversed, as the artist shows ruins being completely overwhelmed by nature. The dilapidated state of this mill, and the way the vegetation is encroaching, suggest that nature will resist any attempt to control it.
Reproduction, 2005, based on a Dutch frame from 1652
The former frame on Ruisdael The watermill, c.1653, acquired 1922, had been cut down from a larger format on all sides, reducing the ‘frieze’ section and creating an imbalance through the dominance of the, now oversized, corner ornament.
A note in the Felton correspondence states: ‘the compo. frame has been replaced by a carved wood frame’, suggesting the frame that came with the painting to Melbourne was a revision of the framing at the time of acquisition.
The proposal to reframe the Ruisdael came in 2005 at the time the painting was cleaned.
The frame design comes from 1652, a year before the painting.
The frame was made from coachwood (pink sycamore), stained to an ebonised finish.
The frame was fitted to the painting in 2005.