“Nature is the most beautiful of paintings; that is why we must produce so many studies after nature. In nature, you cannot be deceived: everything in it is true! And truth must always be a sacred duty for the artist.”
With these emphatic words, B. C. Koekkoek outlined his understanding of art. And if you look around this room, you can literally sense his delight in nature.
From his own words, we know he went in search of simple, true and poetic nature. That distinguishes him from the idealised view of nature found in the German Romantic movement. He evidently learned from the Dutch artists of the 17th century – known as the Golden Age of painting. From them, he also adopted the subtle use of directional light to guide the viewer’s eye through the landscape.
For example, take a look at the two works in the right-hand corner. They show Koekkoek’s typical tree and forest landscape. Here, it’s a majestic beech tree – one that actually stood not far from Moyland Castle, just a few kilometres east of Cleves.
The sketch in oils – on the left – presents an image of the tree, with its distinctive cleft, that’s as true to life as possible. The finished oil painting – on the right – has evolved into a comprehensive landscape composition in which the palace – which is the actual subject – merely forms a backdrop.
A broken branch as a symbol of impermanence, a storm that gives trees and humans alike a good shaking, a derelict farm – Koekkoeks paintings aren’t random snapshots of any old landscape. They tell stories, or hint at more transcendent connections … and, given this wider concept of nature, are absolutely romantic.
But B.C. Koekkoek wasn’t interested in topographical accuracy, and despite his sense of reality, he was not restrictive in the way he dealt with his subjects – as our next stop will show.
But before you leave this room, take a moment to appreciate the décor, especially the magnificent ceiling ornaments. The gold on the stucco glows in the light flooding in through the enormous windows. Imagine you were a buyer, experiencing the master’s paintings in such an atmosphere – how could you possibly resist!
Now, please move on to our next stop, in the adjoining room. It’s to the right of the series of doors, and you’ll be walking straight towards it.