Back to Nature?
The Punctuated History of a Natural
A painting by Mauve, or Maris, or Israëls is more telling than nature itself.
Vincent van Gogh
If anybody taught me to see nature, it was our old masters. But I learned most from
Jan Hendrik Weissenbruch (1824-1903) was one of the most distinguished Dutch painters in the 19th century. Skies, shores and landscapes were his passion, in particular the wide, wet 'polders'–stretches of land reclaimed from the ravaging waters in Holland. He never had to travel far because all this beauty was abundantly available around The Hague, the town where he had lived all his life. From his home he could walk to the famous collection of Dutch paintings at the Mauritshuis Museum in five minutes, and as a young man he spent many hours there contemplating and even copying the works of his 17th century idols, Johannes Vermeer and Jacob Ruisdael. But although he remained faithful to these great examples until the end of his days, his unrestrained abandonment to nature forced him to develop his own look at the world. 'At times, nature gives me a real blow,' he used to say. At such moments drawing and painting was easy. He jotted down his impressions in charcoal so that later, at home, he could work on them in paint. Over the years, his style changed from more meticulous rendering to a highly personal impressionism. What strikes the eye is the subtle balance between joyful and spontaneous virtuosity and compositional grandeur. In particular his monumental skies are unforgettable, with their infinite variety of blues and greys. He brought the polders to life and taught us to feel at home in this flat, green land of mud and water.