Meindert Hobbema was one of the last great landscape painters of the Dutch Golden Age. His richly painted scenes, abundant with woodlands and watermills, were overlooked, to a great extent, during his time. Over the last two centuries, however, Hobbema’s work has been celebrated for its individuality and charm.
Hobbema, the son of a carpenter, had a shaky start to life. At the age of 15, he is recorded as living in an orphanage, along with his brother and sister. It is unknown how his passion for art began, however by approximately age 17, Hobbema had been taken on as an apprentice to landscape painter Jacob van Ruisdael (1629-1682).
Hobbema is Ruisdael’s only documented pupil, and it seems the two shared both a close painterly and personal connection. Ruisdael would act as witness for Hobbema at his wedding to Eeltje Vinck in 1668, long after his training under the master painter was completed. There is also evidence to suggest that two travelled to Germany together during the early 1660s.
In Hobbema’s early works, there is the ghostly impression of his master’s hand, the younger artist taking inspiration from and imitating the works of the older. Hobbema also seems to have derived influence from Ruisdael’s uncle Salomon van Ruysdael (1602-1670), another landscape painter. Indeed, landscape painting had grown increasingly popular during the Dutch Golden Age, particularly scenes that derived inspiration from the Dutch countryside. Hobbema was learning from two of the best, and it was the study and imitation of their two styles which would eventually birth his own, unique manner.
Where Ruisdael swamped his canvases with a moody, stormy atmosphere, Hobbema developed a much lighter, brighter composition. His skies are of a crisp blue, and the manner with which this sharp light diffuses through the canopies of the woodlands he was so fond of painting is masterfully clever. He has been much praised for his ability to handle light with an elegant hand, weaving it between the thick, bushy clusters of branches and leaves.
Hobbema often features woodlands in his work, intersected with paths lazily meandering diagonally across the canvas. Rivers and ponds, too, are a common feature, and they add to this fresh sense of immediacy, the light bouncing off the surface of the water, reflecting back the intricately detailed shrubbery and pasture. Water mills go hand in hand with this feature, once a motif Ruisdael picked up from trips to Germany, Hobbema made it his signature.
It was during his time with Ruisdael and in the years directly after that Hobbema produced the largest number of works. These are also regarded as some of his best. He did continue to paint after his marriage in 1668, however his output significantly decreased when he took on a steady job as a municipal wine-gauger. Yet his most famous works come from this time.
‘The Avenue at Middelharnis’ was completed in 1689. Depicting a road stretching towards the village of Middelharnis in the far distance, its flat landscape and scarcity of trees put it at odds with Hobbema’s usual style. Yet it is Hobbema’s canny ability to capture perspective in the composition which earns this painting so much praise. The trees are set back far enough that they do not divide the canvas up, making the scene seem open. It is as if the viewer has stepped into the work. Married with his astute handling of light, Hobbema created his masterpiece.
Whilst praised in the centuries following Hobbema’s time, this painting was not afforded much contemporary praise. Neither was Hobbema, overshadowed by his former teacher. Indeed, the Dutch Golden Age was coming to an end by the late 17th century, conflicts across Europe causing an economic decline, and therefore a smaller market for art. Hobbema and his family are listed as living in an impoverished neighbourhood within Amsterdam. Both Hobbema and his wife were buried in pauper’s graves.
However, a flourishing of fascination for Dutch landscape paintings within Britain during the 18th- and 19th centuries ensured Hobbema’s work would not be forgotten. He found many fans, including landscape great John Constable (1776-1837). ‘The Avenue at Middelharnis’ earnt its reputation and has since been hailed as ‘the swan song of Holland’s great period of landscape painting.’
Hobbema might struggle to find as many fans as his teacher, Jacob van Ruisdael, but his works are no less accomplished, his achievements no less worthy of recognition. Today a number of his works, including ‘The Avenue at Middelharnis,’ reside in the National Gallery, London.
Born in Amsterdam, Holland.
Began apprenticeship to Jacob van Ruisdael.
Travelled to Germany with Jacob van Ruisdael.
Married Eeltje Vinck.
Completed ‘The Avenue at Middelharnis.’
Wife Eeltje died.
Died in Amsterdam, Holland.