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Jan Lievens

(1607 Leiden – 1674 Amsterdam)

Landscape with Bathing Nymphs. Oil on canvas, relined. 56.5 x 58 cm. Circa 1657–60. H. Schneider, R. Ekkart, Jan Lievens: sein Leben und seine Werke, Amsterdam 1973, p. 168, no. 334.

This wonderfully luminous, atmospheric woodland landscape, rediscovered only recently in a private collection in the Rhineland, is undoubtedly identical with the painting by Jan Lievens listed in the 1704 inventory drawn up by Gerrit  Cloppenburgh’s widow. This inventory was published for the first time in 1915 by Abraham Bredius in his Künstler-Inventare. In their Catalogue raisonné Schneider and Ekkart list the painting referred to in the inventory, but whose whereabouts were previously unknown, as Number 334: “Landscape with Nudes”. The reemergence of this painting is a discovery of major import and supplements our knowledge of the painted oeuvre of this Dutch artist who, during his early years in Leiden, was on friendly terms with Rembrandt. 

Woodland landscapes are few and far between in Jan Lievens’ work. His landscape art reveals the inspiration, in particular, of Flemish painting. From 1635 to 1643 Lievens lived in Antwerp, where works by Adriaen Brouwer and Peter Paul Rubens exerted a profound influence on him at this stage of his career. Among the characteristic features of landscapes painted at this time are a broad, paste-like application of the paint, in which the palette of dark colours contrasts effectively with a distinctive handling of the light, as well as a keen sense of atmosphere. The present landscape, which dates to the artist’s latter years, shows clear evidence of the influence of Cinquecento Venetian painters, especially the late Titian. The painting has an almost retrospective feel, given the clear debt to Titian that is manifest in the subtly graded, velvety green and blue tones which are applied in a free and effortless manner. In the foreground, nymphs are bathing in a woodland pond in the twilight of a wonderful evening sky. The lyrical pastoral atmosphere of the secretive forest landscape and the free, roughly sketched treatment of the figures are also directly attributable to the influence of the artist’s great Venetian predecessor. 

Lievens’ late work contains several examples that are similar to the present landscape, for instance the painting Forest Path with Walker in the National Gallery of Scotland in Edinburgh (Schneider/Ekkart no. 302) and the Forest Landscape with Hagar and the Angel in the Musée des Beaux-Arts in Rouen (Schneider/Ekkart no. 377). Comparable details in the treatment of the fir trees are also to be found in the landscape background of the painting Christ and the Captain of Capernaum, which dates to 1657. The stylistic closeness to the aforementioned landscapes would indicate that the present picture was painted between 1657 and 1660. A coherent group of drawings of pastoral landscapes also stems from this period, thereby endorsing the surmised date of their creation (see exhibition catalogue Jan Lievens. A Dutch master rediscovered, by Arthur K. Wheelock, National Gallery of Art, Washington 2008, nos. 126 ff, with figs.). Pure landscapes constitute an exception in the painted oeuvre of this period, however. In his late work Lievens concentrated mostly on allegories and ancient history paintings, some of which were commissioned by the Dutch court in The Hague and by Elector Friedrich Wilhelm of Brandenburg. Towards the end of his life Lievens also excelled as a portraitist. 

Dr. Lloyd DeWitt, Chief Curator of European Art, Chrysler Museum of Art, Norfolk, Virginia, has confirmed that Jan Lievens is the author of this work, which he dates to the late 1650s.

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