The inspiration of nature

Native inspiration

In the Netherlands, Haarlem-born painter Jacob van Ruisdael (ca. 1628-1682) began painting at an early age and must have been greatly influenced by his uncle, the artist Salomon van Ruysdael. Like Constable, Ruisdael worked extensively in the landscape, travelling and drawing, to prepare for paintings which he executed in his studio.

Like many of his 17th century Dutch contemporaries, the flat landscape of the Netherlands, with its vast skies and low horizon, features prominent in Ruisdael’s work, such as View of Haarlem from the Northwest, with the Bleaching Fields in the Foreground.

In the foreground, lengths of cloth bleaching in the sun lie at the foot of the dunes, on which the Haarlem linen industry relied on their pure water. On the distant horizon is the skyline of Haarlem, recognisable by the roof and spire of St Bavo’s Cathedral, which barely pierces the vast sky above. Another painting by Ruisdael of this subject is held in the Kunsthaus Zürich.

The precipitous and inaccessible mountains along Norway’s northern coast impressed artist Peder Balke (1804-87) when he first visited the region in 1832. Balke’s Stetind in Fog, 1864, contrasts diminutive human figures and sailing boats against the sea, sky and towering Stetind mountain.

The juxtaposition of man with the sublime power of nature is typical of romanticism, as seen in the work of artists such as Caspar David Friedrich. Balke revisited the motif of Stetind and painted many similar scenes during his lifetime: click here to see more of this work on Europeana.

Latvian artist Vilhelms Purvītis (1872-1945) studied at the Imperial Academy of Arts in St Petersburg, graduating with the Grand Gold Medal, before moving between Riga, Spitzbergen (where he studied the painting of snow) and Tallinn. He later became director of a Riga art museum (today’s Latvian National Museum of Art) and he was a founding member of the Art Academy of Latvia.

Winter, 1910, has featured regularly in exhibitions of Latvian art abroad in cities such as Brussels, Kaunas, Kiev, Luxembourg, Leningrad, Moscow and Tallinn. Its serene, romantic mood is evoked by the winter sun’s sparkling reflections on the water, backlit clouds and the silhouette of the huge trees in the foreground. The fragile lacework of the branches also suggests the influence of Art Nouveau.

Winter was chosen to represent Latvia in the 2007 exhibition Masterpieces of European Art dedicated to the 50th anniversary of the European Union, which took place in Rome’s Palazzo del Quirinale. It hung amongst works by celebrated artists like Titian, Dürer, Rodin and Turner.

Hungarian artist Tivadar Csontváry Kosztka combined his native culture with motifs from foreign landscapes to stir emotions about national identity. He travelled far and wide, visiting Paris, north Africa, southern Europe and the Middle East, where he painted Pilgrimage to the Cedars in Lebanon, 1907.

Thousand-year-old cedars play a prominent role in ancient Hungarian mythology so, in choosing this motif, Csontváry fused native traditions with the Lebanese landscape. Away from art, Csontváry expressed his visionary outlook in religious pamphlets and autobiographical journals.

I haven't made commercial work because I didn't care for the pedlar's press; I retired from the world instead, going to the mountains of Lebanon, and I painted cedars.

Tivadar Csontváry Kosztka, The Positivum, 1910-20

Explore more of Csontváry’s art on Europeana here.