Jacob van Ruisdael was the greatest of the Dutch realist landscape painters and exerted a huge influence on the development of European landscape painting in the 19th century, although in his own day he was less popular than Italianate painters such as his great friend Berchem (who may occasionally have painted figures in Ruisdael's landscapes). He was born in Haarlem, where the realist landscape was first developed in the early 17th century, and may have been a pupil of his father, Isack, about whom little is known. Later he probaly worked with his uncle Salomon van Ruysdael (whose son, also a landscape painter, was also named Jacob). His early works represent views in the neighbourhood of Haarlem with great fidelity, so that many are still recognizable. In 1648 he entered the Haarlem Guild. About 1650 he travelled with Berchem in East Holland and probaly in Western Germany as well, where he saw mountains for the first time. He and Berchem both painted Bentheim Castle in Germany in 1650/51. He settled in Amsterdam c.1655 and lived there until his death, although he was buried in Haarlem.
In 1676 his name occurs on a list of doctors and he is said to have taken a medical degree at Caen in France. His name, however, is crossed out, and although he is known to have had medical interests it may not be significant. He may have practised as a surgeon in Amsterdam while continuing to paint, but the latest date on any of his pictures is 1678. It is now known that the story of his povery and death in the Haarlem Poorhouse refers to his cousin Jacob Salomonsz Ruysdael.
His later works have a much more Romantic approach and are more dramatic in handling; some even imitate the kind of mountain landscape popularized by A. van Everdingen. His finest works, however, are generally agreed to be the typical Dutch panoramas with the sun breaking fitfully through the clouds and lighting up patches of the duneland. It has been said that 'he never painted a hot day', and his temper was indeed melancholic and grave; yet unlike his uncle or Jan van Goyen who sought breadth and used monochromatic effects to get it, he employs strong local colours and gains his atmospheric effects by means of the luminosity of his skies and the vast sweep of his clouds. Hobbema was the most important of his many pupils and imitators.
He is thought to have painted well over 1,000 pictures, so that practically every major gallery has one, but the best collection is in London (NG).
- Source: The Penguin Dictionary of Art and Artists (Penguin Reference Books)
This is the most important dictionary on art and artists ever published and an essential read.