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Saturday, July 19, 2014

Meindert Hobbema

A Water Mill, 1665, Meindert Hobbema.
He seems to have painted this mill several times from slightly different angles.
One of the most slighted areas in art, especially painting, is, what I call "second best." For instance, if I were to ask who was the best painter of the Dutch Golden Age, you'd quickly say, "Rembrandt." Very well, who was the second best painter during that time? Your answer might be, "...uhhhhh... mmmm, well...let me see. hmmmmmm." Breaking it down further (which the Dutch did incessantly) to other content categories, Rembrandt (or Hals) would probably win when it came to portraits, van Ruisdael with landscapes, Genre would be Vermeer, the best still-life painter might be Utrecht, while the best animal painter would undoubtedly be Potter. If asked to name the second best in any of these categories, just off the top of my head, even I would draw a blank with some of them. I dare say the same problem would exist today or in virtually any earlier era of art, and all the content areas during each era. Whether in art or sports nobody remembers those who come in second.
The Avenue at Middelharnis, 1689, Meindert Hobbema--his most famous painting.
Of course the problem with second place in evaluating artist is a lack of concrete criteria. Agreements as to second place are far more subjective that the general consensus involving first or best. Today I'm writing about Meindert Hobbema, the second-best landscape painter of the Dutch Golden Age (17th-century). Naturally there are those who would insist that, second to Jacob van Ruisdael in the painting of Dutch landscapes should be Pieter de Molyn, or Albert Cuyp, or perhaps Salomon van Ruysdael (Jacob's uncle). Further complicating the matter is that the Dutch Golden Age lasted for about a century while none of the artists mentioned above lasted more than a fraction of that time. On top of that, landscapes can be broken down into wooded country scenes, citys-capes, seascapes, and, knowing the Dutch, probably a ridiculous number of other minuscule, sunlit niches.
A Watermill, Meindert Hobbema
--same mill as that at the top, just back and off to the left a little.
Moulin a Eau, 1692, Meindert Hobbema, so
far as I can tell, his only vertical landscape.
My choosing Hobbema is, therefore, far from a definitive decree. What he did he did very well, better even than his apprenticeship master, Jacob van Ruisdael himself. Hobbema painted wooded landscapes. He was, however, not very versatile, which, I admit, weakens my argument in his favor somewhat. I don't think he ever painted a seascape in his life, and the closest he ever came to a cityscape was hazy, distant villages in the background hiding behind his wooded glens. Likewise, much to my dismay in digging through his hundreds of works for paintings to show here, I discovered only one landscape painted in a vertical format. I know, landscapes are, almost by definition, supposed to be horizontal (or God wouldn't have made them that way). Yet, some of the most striking painted renderings of God's horizontal creation are, in fact, vertical. I find a vertical landscape far more eye-catching than the standard horizontal format, perhaps simply because it's vertical.

Landscape with Windmill, Meindert Hobbema
Besides painting lots and lots of trees, Hobbema also painted roads passing through the trees, a few lazy waterways, mills (both wind and water) along with the occasional suburban cottage in various rustic states of disrepair. He also appears to have gotten special permission from Aelbert Cuyp to include the occasional horse, cow, sheep, or goat, sometimes even (gasp) two or three of them, in one painting. Hobbema, like the whole lot of Golden Age painters (even Rembrandt), painted what would sell, though despite his second-best efforts, he appears to have lived and died (in 1709) in near abject poverty. It's a very old, very sad story, all too often repeated, especially with regard to second-place painters--they're only appreciated after their deaths. In Hobbema's case, his prices appreciated only as the prices of van Ruisdael's landscapes rose into the upper stratosphere of his skies.

Road on a Dyke, 1663, Meindert Hobbema.
So, he was at least somewhat versatile--he could paint livestock.

Note: I found the work of Meindert Hobbema to be very often copied or imitated. Anyone researching this (or any) artist, should watch out for the words "after Hobbema," "In the style of Hobbema," "In the manner of Hobbema," or "Influnced by Hobbema." All these phrases indicated copied work (sometimes nearly identical)...and those mark just the efforts of honest copiers.


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