Work The Ray of Sunlight
Department of Paintings: Dutch painting
The Ray of Sunlight
© 2007 Musée du Louvre / Angèle Dequier
The excellent title, Le Coup de soleil (The Ray of Sunlight), dates back to the early nineteenth century. The painting, from the 1660s, is one of the artist's masterpieces. For him, it is a rare example of panoramic grandeur reminiscent of Rembrandt. The figures of bathers have sometimes (ingeniously) been attributed to Wouwerman.
An ideal landscape
This imaginary landscape by Jacob Van Ruisdael is a vast panorama based on subtle diagonals (clouds, rivers, hills) and composed around a number ol elements taken from the real world: windmills, the ruins of a small bridge and those of Brederode Castle (near Haarlem), and the hills of Gelderland or the Rhineland. A huge sky takes up two thirds of the painting; the tiny figures of bathers and of a horseman dressed in red enliven the broad landscape. This work reflects the trend for idealized landscapes in the European painting of the period.
A masterly ray of sunlight
Once simply referred to as 'The effect of the sun after the rain', this painting was not given the name Le Coup de soleil (The Ray of Sunlight) until the nineteenth century. And the painting's space is, indeed, brilliantly orchestrated by the sunlight, with alternating areas of light and shadow. The wheat fields are strongly lit by its rays; their bright yellow contrasts with the overall tonal harmony of gray-blue and green. The light also sculpts the fleecy banks of clouds on their slow and silent progress, conferring a peaceful, grandiose dynamism to the work. The atmosphere is heavy with humidity although the storm has passed, and there are still signs of rain in the distance.
Reference to Rembrandt
This composition, with its subtle diagonals and ruins among the hills, closely resembles the work of Rembrandt, notably his Landscape with a Castle (in the Louvre). The only splashes of color come from the small figures, which seem to have been painted by someone other than Ruisdael. A tradition dating back to the eighteenth century attributes them (quite plausibly) to Philips Wouwerman (who died in 1668); this would mean that The Ray of Sunlight dates from the 1660s. It is difficult to date this painting more precisely, since it resembles none of the artist's other works. It is one of Ruisdael's greatest paintings - a sublime and moving masterpiece, whose musicality inspires a feeling of dreamy melancholy.
BibliographyLe Siècle de Rembrandt : tableaux hollandais des collections publiques françaises, Editions de la Réunion des musées nationaux, 1970, p. 198.
Jacob (Isaacksz.) van RUISDAEL (Haarlem, 1628-29 - Amsterdam, 1682)
The Ray of Sunlight
H. 0.83 m; W. 0.99 m
Collection of Louis XVI (acquired at the Vaudreuil sale, Paris, 1784)
Holland, second half of the 17th century
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