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Essay – Pieter de Molijn – A Landscape with a Bridge over a Brook

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Essay - Pieter de Molijn - A Landscape with a Bridge over a Brook

Near a woody hamlet is a plain wooden footbridge over a quiet brook. In the left foreground a group of peasants converse at the side of a sandy road. Beyond, are two cottages enveloped by shrubs and lush trees. The sky is filled with creamy, elusive clouds. An open vista at the right side offers an extended view down the stream, with a church spire rising up in the far distance. Pieter de Molijn, though less known with the public at large, was an influential innovative landscape artist. His 1626 Dune landscape with Trees and Wagon in Braunschweig, Herzog Anton Ulrich-Museum heralds the tonal phase of seventeenth-century Dutch landscape painting and is regarded a milestone.

Quite daring and new, also, is the spontaneous handling of the paint. This attractive feature can also be admired to the full in our small and hitherto unpublished painting. In this important early phase, De Molijn specialised in paintings and drawings of dune landscapes with sandy roads and forest views of which our panel is a fine example. With its rich palette it certainly is an early work and possibly executed as early as 1626. As in many of his works, De Molijn used a diagonal composition here. The footbridge was to become a favourite motif in De Molijn’s work. It had been popularized already slightly earlier by Jan van Goyen in the first half of the 1620s.

Our panel is the earliest painting by De Molijn featuring this picturesque detail. It would recur time and again in his celebrated and worked-out drawings and in further paintings of the 1640s and one dated 1652. The dramatic potential of silhouetting the wooden bridge against a bright sky was later on also exploited by Adriaen van Ostade, Jan Steen and Philips Wouwerman. Although the site is imaginary, it would have instantly been recognizable by contemporary beholders as based on the environs of Haarlem with its woods and dunes, which were so extensively praised by writers and printmakers of the time for their natural beauty. With his assured touches of the brush, many applied wet in wet, De Molijn does no less and elevates the scenery to the level of poetry. Moreover, the atmospheric purity of the landscape view makes the light and space palpable, making looking at it almost a physical experience.

Pieter de Molijn was the son of Flemish immigrants, Pieter de Molijn and was born in London. He settled in Haarlem by 1616 and in that year joined the local Guild of St Luke. In 1624 he married Mayken Gerards. De Molijn was recorded as a member of the civic guard in Haarlem in the years 1624, 1627 and 1630 and he also served various functions in the painters’ guild; in 1631, 1637, 1645 and 1649 he was appointed commissioner of the guild, in 1636-37 he was the guild’s alms collector, and holding the office of dean in 1633, 1638 and 1646. His documented pupils were Christian de Hulst, Jan Nose and Gerard ter Borch (1617- 81). His biographer Arnold Houbraken claimed that Allaert van Everdingen (1621-75) also trained with him. De Molijn made collaborative works with a number of painters, including the just-mentioned Ter Borch and Frans Hals, and possibly also with Pieter de Grebber, Jacob de Wet, Jacob Pynas and Nicolaes Berchem.