Ruisdael at PMA
Post #719 • January 31, 2006, 11:30 AM • 17 Comments
Try not to think about all the landscape painting you've seen when you go to Jacob Van Ruisdael: Dutch Master of Landscape, up at the Philadelphia Museum of Art through February 5. Back in the 17th Century, the shafts of light from Heaven, the emerald canopy of capital-N Nature, the cracked trees as stand-ins for the Reaper, and so on had not yet become clichés of Western painting. At that point they had visceral symbolic impact, and in the hands of Ruisdael, became the motif for innovative compositional daring and expressiveness. Despite their verisimilitude to specific castles, trees, and waterfalls, the images come together by as much force of invention as that which produced Bosch's scenes of hell. (One bay of the gallery gathers his Scandinavian paintings together, depicting a land that the artist never visited.) They became the basis for 400 years of similar, inferior work, but don't hold that against them; they directly inspired Constable, also in this show with a half-dozen paintings. A bit of prolonged, unanalytical looking brings back their ability to arouse the same kind of thrill that nature, capital-N or otherwise, provides, with its majestic indifference to human worries and its refreshing reminder that we live in a similar manner to all living things, nurtured by soil and water, at once finite and continuous.