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A Broad Bucolic Landscape with a Rider and Resting Travellers. Black chalk, grey wash, borderline in pen and brown ink. 39.1 x 57.2 cm. Verso signed in black chalk in the artist’s own hand: “voor de Heer Engelberts ..”; signed, dated and inscribed in pen and black ink: “de Tekeningen Van Deze Schetzen / zijn berustende in het Cabinet Van de / Heer Jan Van Dijk te Amsterdam / E: Van Drielst / 1778”.
Egbert van Drielst was initially trained as a scene painter in Haarlem. In the 1770s he turned his attention to landscape painting and moved to Amsterdam, where his artistic development was influenced by his friend and fellow-painter, Jacob Cats. In Amsterdam, van Drielst took an intense interest in the work of 17th century Dutch masters such as Jacob van Ruisdael, Jan Wijnants and, above all, Meindert Hobbema, which later earned him the nickname “Drenthse Hobbema”. He attempted to enhance his skills by studying directly from nature and learning the techniques employed by his famous predecessors. Van Drielst was the first artist of his generation to regard the picturesque landscape of the thinly populated northern Dutch province of Drenthe as worthy of depiction. He consequently undertook many journeys there between 1772 and 1795. In contrast to many draughtsmen of the previous generation, van Drielst was concerned less with topographical accuracy and more with the convincing reproduction of light and atmosphere. His landscapes are filled with a great deal of poetic atmosphere, revealing a new sensitivity to nature.
In the present unusually large and impressive work, however, van Drielst reveals a different facet of his skills. Instead of one of his preferred motifs from Drenthe or the area around Haarlem we see a carefully composed, imaginary bucolic landscape reminiscent not so much of Hobbema as of 17th century Italianate artists like Jan Both. Despite the large variety of narrative motifs introduced by Drielst with obvious pleasure, the reproduction of the glaring, hot summer light is the real subject matter of the picture. The lush wooded landscape, which is treated in masterly fashion and with great verve, provides the picturesque backdrop for a number of astutely observed everyday occurrences of rural life. In the foreground a family is taking a rest and talking to a man slowly riding his horse past them down a sandy track. Appearing a little further back on the left is a picturesque farmstead bristling with activity, to which a hay cart is returning from the harvest. In the middle ground peasants are busy in the fields and a group of boys seek refreshment in a pond. On the horizon a mountain range bathed in sunlight bounds the wide-ranging, atmospheric landscape. Van Drielst frequently produced monochrome drawings like this as models for large-format watercolours executed in great detail. The inscription on the verso confirms that the present drawing was produced for such a purpose, although no corresponding watercolour is extant. A variation of this composition is in the Schlossmuseum in Weimar (inv. KK 4970).