Romance and Realism at the Fogg

Jacob Van Ruisduel At the Fogg Art Museum Through April II

(n) I a scholar's library STUDY 2a an institution devoted to the procurement, care and displays of objects of lasting interest or value b a room building, or locale where a collection of objects is put on exhibition c EXHIBIT COLLECTION 3 something that resembles a museum.

THE FOGG ART MUSEUM'S success has always depended on balancing the first two of these definitions. As a teaching museum, it originally specialized in the Italian Renaissance, but it has since grown in every direction, taking on new fields and specialties without ever compromising its traditional strengths. With courses in Greek and Roman, far Eastern, Islamic, and Western 19th and 20th century art the Fogg now accommodates a great variety of students

At the time, the museum has presented unrivalled public exhibitions Seven to eight hundred people will walk into the Fogg today, and thousands filled the museum this past weekend.

Seymour Slive, the Fogg's director, may be the single most important reason for the Fogg's success on account of a remarkable hat-trick For half of his seven-year term as director, he travelled around the country to find support for a major new addition to the museum, which President Bok tentatively approved last week, a month after he called it off. This term, he is teaching a popular course on Dutch masters of the 17th century, otherwise known as "Cigars."

His third score is the current exhibition of the Dutch landscapist Jacob van Ruisdael one of the most important art historical events ever staged at the Fogg.


Holland in the 17th century was a painter's dream, where art was bought and sold in the public marketplace. Collecting was popular among the middle classes, and it was not rare to find paintings throughout the rooms of farm houses or in the local bakery. The Dutch favored landscapes because they were familiar, and most 17th century masters away from allegorical subjects. The universal demand for art prompted a great outgoing of works, and it is little wonder that historians have been slow at sorting out the artists While Ruisdael has been one of the neglected landscapists, he has only recently emerged as a genius among them.

HIS LANDSCAPES can be described as simultaneously romantic and realistic. His representation of foliage is so scientifically accurate that a botanist can distinguish different types of trees in his pictures. It is easy to imagine on a rock or log and painting every lead, stone, or cloud from observation. But it is also evident that many of his paintings sprang from his imagination or memory. The intensity of his colors and the drama of his lighting bring romance to his works. A single ray of sunshine creeps through overcast skies and highlights and heroicizes one aspect of the landscape. The wooded scenes are romantic to the extreme of fantasy, and could be the setting of tales like Rip van Winkle or The Hobbit

Real and romantic also meet in Landscape with the Ruins of the Castle of Egmond where a devotion to accuracy is matched by an infatuation with the ruined castle. The castle of Egmond was not an imaginary building, but the scene of a fantastic history. Ruisdael painted the castle at least five times, and his intrigue with the ruins--which the Prince of Orange destroyed to prevent it from falling into the hands of Spanish invaders--suggests that for him the castle was an emblem of Holland's successful fight for independence from the Spaniards.

But Rursdael's heroes were not the men and women of Holland, but the country itself; the rolling and woody terrain, the castles, cities fields rivers and the sea. He is famous for glorifying trees and windmills making these subjects the principle figures of his works. In A Blasted Elm with a View of Egmond aan Zee the city serves as a backdrop to the twisted and torn elm in the foreground. Ruisdael's most famous painting. The Windmill at Wijk bij Duurstede, may be as close to portraiture as Rusidael comes--with a three quarter profile of a windmill. The symbolism reveals his conviction that man is subordinate to nature, and even man's creation is lifeless without the natural force of wind.

The two paintings in show that have attacted the most attention are a pair of scenes of a Jewish cemetery which have never before been hung side by side. A departure for Ruisdnel, these paintings depcit an allegorical subject. Moonlight strikes a tomb, a ruined cathedral looms in the background, dead beeches litter the foreground, shrouded women walk among the graves, all of which suggests the hopeless mortality of man and his inevitable doom. But Ruisdael is not entirely morbid, and he inclines a faint but perceptible rainbow on the horizon--a glimmer of hope and he possibility of rebirth.

The paintings and drawings of Ruisdael at the Fogg help us place him into perspective among Dutch masters of the 17th century, but the repercussions of his genius go far beyond Haarlem. Amsterdam or Egmond of the 1660s or '70s. The Ruisdeal exhibition proves that the Fogg continues to champion the first-two-definitions of "mu-se-um," and--especially with plans for the addition alive again--the third: "something that resembles a museum."