Jan van Goyen (Leyden 1596-1656 The Hague) Winter landscape with fishermen and skaters on the ice in Leyden overlooking Voorschoten (1653)

Jan van Goyen was born as the son of Joseph Jansz. van Goyen and Geertgen Dircksdr. van Eck. Jan married Annetje Willemsdr. van Raelst on 5 August 1618 in Leyden. The couple had two daughters: Margaretha van Goyen (1624-1669) who married in 1649 to Jan Steen (1626-1679) and Maria van Goyen (1626-1662) who married in 1649 to Jacob de Gryef. After an appreticeship for two years to Willem Gerritsz. (1572/82-1628/35) Jan was apprenticed to Esaias van de Velde (1587-1630) in 1617 in Haarlem for a year. He was a most prolific artist who left a large oeuvre of more than 1000 drawings and many (with the exception of the Bredius-Kroning Sketchbook all incomplete) sketchbooks made during the artist's numerous walks and travels. Van Goyen's earliest work dates from 1620.[1]

Until the 1640s van Goyen executed his drawings primarily in black chalk and from 1647 on he started applying grey wash to enhance the sense of space, depth and the illusion of light (and in a very few sheets in 1651 he applied brown wash). In the years 1651-1653 he was utmost productive and concentrated purely on drawing, hardly spending time to paint in his studio producing only a very few paintings in these years. This highly increased productivity was born out of sheer need as van Goyen suffered from bankruptcy in the early 1640's after the collapse of the market for speculations on bulbs after the 1637 Tulipmania. The enormous productivity unfortunately couldn't solve van Goyen's financial woes, as even after two auction sales in 1652 and 1654, his debts were still of such amount his widow had to sell their house after Jan passed away in 1656. Of this period some 350 drawings by van Goyen have been recorded. By far his most productive year, in the year 1653 alone, Beck recorded 26 Winter Landscapes of which 8 are of large size like our drawing from the previous collection of Alain Delon which has an outstanding provenance.[3] One of these eight Winter Landscapes is in the collection of the Albertina and another one in the Abrams Collection.[4][5]

The annotations in pencil on the verso (probably by Jan Gildemeester (1744-1799) of this most attractive winter landscape Den Ryn buiten Leyden, Zijnde de eerste brug na 't Langehuis te Zien, en de Tooren van Voorschoten in 't Verschiet. Uit 't cabinet van Tonneman (the river Rijn outside Leyden, showing the first bridge after the Langehuis and the tower of Voorschoten in the distance. From the collection of Tonneman) make it possible to quite accurately reconstruct the observation point of this drawing by Jan van Goyen.

Depicted in this charming and subtly composed panoramic Winter Landscape are travellers by foot and horse and carriage. A fisherman is leaning on his rod, patiently awaiting while his colleague chops an ice hole while other men drag in their nets with hopefully a successful catch. Their co-workers waiting aside their barrels to be filled while another man just sets the pace to skate away with the previous catch. On the far left two men seem to be warming up playing a game of Kolf. In the distance people are skating and making conversation while enjoying what appears to be a calm and quiet Winter day on the ice. On the far right two fishermen who set out to try their luck a bit further away.

The church tower between the willow trees and first house along the road mentioned on the verso is that of the Dorpskerk or Dutch Reformed Church (built in 1539) of Voorschoten with it's four small towers on the corners clearly discernable (although in the same viewing direction, the church tower cannot be the Saint Laurentius Church which was built much later between 1866 and 1868). The gallows on the far right, seen from not to far a distance were situated between the Morsweg and Galgewater, more specifically on the location where nowadays the local student rowing club Njord is housed (Morsweg 182-184) and the Galgewater being the water that literally leads towards the gallows.

The first mill on the right of the center is Het Lange Huys or De Veenvos which was built in 1629 and owned by Pieter van Swieten and Jan Sittert who sold the mill to Arent Bleyswijk and the widow of Pieter Gerads on 4 January 1681. The mill burnt down before 1699 after which it was replaced by an octagonal peeling mill which was used for the Ferdinand Obdam watermachine in 1756. It was refurbished in 1759 and given a new name De Eendragt. De Eendragt was demolished on the 14th of December 1922. The location of Het Lange Huys or De Veenvos must have been about where the Churchill bridge runs nowadays.

The mill in the distance on the far right is hardly identifiable and could possibly be De Fortuin in the direction of Ter Wadding, though this remains uncertain as sources seem contradictory on this.
The bridge and sluice or watergate on the far left has been identified as the Boshuizersluis.

Drawing the sightline through the reconstruction of these topographical pinpoints, the point of view for van Goyen's Winterlandscape must have been about where the Haagweg starts or at maximum several hundred meters South-West of it. It is quite possible Jan Gildemeester mixed-up the two mills (he was not a local after all) as the first mill seen from the left is Het Lange Huys or De Veenvos. Van Goyen composed his drawings for the market in his studio, using sketches from his travels. As van Goyen was born in Leyden where he lived for nearly fourty years until he moved to The Hague in 1632 or 1635 it is most likely the drawing is of great accuracy and shows the landscape as it was around 1653, most probably based on sketches made during one of van Goyen's walking tours outside the old city walls. Given the scale and distances it is also possible van Goyen has slightly cropped the panorama (especially the gallows which seem to have been moved slightly to the left to fit the panorama) in order to be able to put as many recognisable topographical elements together in one view to make the drawing maximum attractive for the market.

A warm thanks to Gerrit Keunen and Piet de Baar for discussing the topography with me.[6]

[1] Edwin Buijsen, The Sketchbook of Jan van Goyen, from the Bredius-Kroning Collection.
The Foundation "Bredius Genootschap", The Hague, 1993.

[2] Hans-Ulrich Beck, Jan van Goyen 1596-1656. Ein Oeuvreverzeignis in Zwei bänden mit einem Geleitwort von Wolfgang Stechow. Van Gendt & Co., Amsterdam, 1973. Vol. I., no. 335-357 p. 117-124.

[3] ibid. [Beck 350a and 350A]

[4] Jan van Goyen, Winterlandschaft mit Schlittschuhläufern und Windmühle.
Black chalk, grey wash, 173 x 274 mm. Albertina Wien. inv. no. 8508. [Beck 351]

[5] William W. Robinson, Martin Royalton-Kisch, Bruegel to Rembrandt, Dutch and Flemish Drawings from the Maida and George Abrams Collection. Harvard University Art Museums, Cambridge/Yale University Press, New Haven/London, 2002. No. 19, p. 62 [Beck 356]

[6] Correspondence by phone and e-mail, 21 February 2024.

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