This landscape, full of freshness in colours and execution and showing the influence of Rubens’ legacy, presents us with a view of the Soignes Forest near Brussels, one of Jacques d'Arthois' favourite places.
1. Jacques d'Arthois and the Brussels Landscape School
Jacques d'Arthois was born in Brussels in 1613. After having been a pupil of Jan Mertens, a painter now forgotten, he became a master in the Guild of Saint Luke, the guild of painters of Brussels in 1634.
In 1632 he married Maria Sampels, with whom he had five children. He specialised in representations of wooded landscapes filled with figures, leaving an abundant production of more than 250 listed works ranging in size from 25 x 20 cm for cabinet paintings (like our painting) to very large formats of up to 410 x 340 cm, often commissioned by religious communities.
The inclusion of these characters to animate landscapes (called staffage in English and German) was generally done by other painters and Jacques d'Arthois' collaboration with character painters such as Peter Bout, David Téniers the Younger, but also Adam Frans van der Meulen, Pieter Snayers or Gaspar de Crayer is well documented. Jacques d'Arthois generally depicts secular scenes, inspired by everyday life, and not mythological or religious scenes.
His paintings were very successful during his lifetime, allowing him to acquire several houses, including one in the Forêt de Soignes. This forest, located to the South-West of Brussels, then covered some ten thousand hectares and was his main source of inspiration. The surroundings of Brussels were largely portrayed by his contemporaries Lodewijk de Vadder (1605 - 1655), Daniel van Heil (1604 - 1662) and Jacques Fouquier (circa 1585 - 1659), with whom he formed the Brussels School of Landscape Design.
Jacques d'Arthois generally did not date his works, making a precise chronology of his work very difficult. However, while his early paintings were mainly inspired by those of Denis van Alsloots (1570 - 1628) and of Lodewijk de Vadder, the landscapes of Peter Paul Rubens had a decisive influence on his mature works, an influence that can be found in our painting, both in the chromatic range and in the light brushstrokes.
2. Description of the work
Our landscape presents an Arcadian vision of the Forêt de Soignes: a waterfall appears between two groups of trees, which frame a more distant perspective of bluish hills, very similar to an Italian landscape. In the foreground, along the stream, two cows and two goats graze guarded by a shepherd and his dog. Two figures are moving along on a path on the left hand side.
The presence of water gushing from the waterfall and the upward movement of these two characters animate the landscape with a circular movement. The figures and the animals, which are quickly sketched out, match the quivering touch that runs through the trees, whose branches seem to ripple in a light breeze.
Main bibliographical reference:
Die Flämische Landschaft 1520-1700 Exhibition catalogue of the Kulturstiftung Ruhr Essen and the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna 2003
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