Pieter de Molijn is considered by present-day art historians to be one of the founders of what is referred to as the tonal phase of naturalistic Dutch landscape painting, a position largely attributable to his Landscape with Dunes painted in 1626. Nevertheless, art historians such as Wolfgang Stechow have suggested that his paintings after 1630 were old-fashioned, lacked originality, and exhibited no further artistic development, and therefore they typify him as merely an epigone of Jan van Goyen and Salomon van Ruisdael. For most of these art historians, innovation seems to be the most important criterion on which to grant painters a place in the art-historical canon. Contemporary sources, however, indicate that de Molijn deserves as much attention as the more recognized artist Jan van Goyen. These sources prove that de Molijn enjoyed a solid reputation right up until his death in 1661. He was active in broadening the art market by producing monochrome landscapes and finding new ways to sell them to a wider public. In addition, Arnold Houbraken and other connoisseurs valued his later, more delicate and colorful landscapes. These were bought by collectors who appreciated de Molijn’s craftsmanship and the works’ subtle references to famous landscape painters of the past. Pieter de Molijn developed a successful business model by simultaneously working in different styles for different clients, thus securing his niche in a competitive art market.
Pieter de Molijn as a Pioneer of the “Tonal” Landscape
Arnold Houbraken (1660–1719) wrote at the beginning of the eighteenth century that “Pieter de Molijn was an accomplished painter of landscapes, clear in the way he rendered distances and glowing in his foregrounds.”1 Soon after Houbraken wrote these words, de Molijn was forgotten as a painter. Primarily his drawings—rather than his paintings—became highly valued during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.2
Only since the mid-1960s has Pieter de Molijn come to be recognized as one of the leading figures of early seventeenth-century Dutch landscape painting, along with Esaias van de Velde (1596–1656) and Jan van Goyen (1587–1630). In 1966, Wolfgang Stechow was the first to emphasize the importance of de Molijn’s Landscape with Dunes and a Sandy Road (1626) for the artistic development of Dutch landscape painting (fig. 1). This simple landscape represents an early stage of the style known as the tonal phase of seventeenth-century Dutch painting, in which vistas of the countryside are characterized by a broad painterly manner and a restricted palette of grays, greens, browns, dull yellows, and blues.3 According to Stechow, de Molijn should be considered a pioneer of this innovation in landscape painting, although he emphasized that after 1630 de Molijn’s work became regressive and outmoded.4 By that time, he argued, Salomon van Ruisdael (ca. 1602–1670) and Jan van Goyen were the leading artists, while de Molijn’s work lacked inspiration.
In 1969, Laurens Johannes Bol also discussed de Molijn as an artist in the shadow of his famous contemporaries. But significantly, he remarked that at present little appreciation existed for the work he completed after 1630. That was unfortunate because, according to him, these later landscapes had a special quality of their own that could not be compared to the work of the van Goyen school.5Bol pointed out that de Molijn’s landscape of 1647, now in the Frans Hals Museum in Haarlem, has a richer color scheme than van Goyen’s paintings from the same period (fig. 2).6
In 1987, Eva Jeney Allen published her dissertation on de Molijn. She described the artist as a transitional figure in the history of Dutch landscape painting, whose oeuvre formed a bridge between the mannerist art of the previous generation and the new naturalism of the seventeenth century. Allen characterized him as a versatile artist who painted diverse subjects and worked in several different styles at the same time.7 She maintained that de Molijn was a founder and perpetuator of the tonal style, along with Esaias van de Velde and Jan van Goyen. On the other hand, she pointed out that de Molijn’s work continued to display the decorative Flemish and Dutch mannerist tendencies of previous epochs. Allen considered de Molijn a painter who inspired other artists with traditional ideas.8 She also emphasized the importance of the formative years between 1616 and 1625 for his artistic development and commented that he often fell back on the works he had studied during this crucial period of his life, among them landscapes by Abraham Bloemaert (1564–1651), Esaias van de Velde, and Roelant Savery (1576–1639).9
Finally, in 1991, Hans Ulrich Beck discussed Pieter de Molijn’s paintings in his Künstler um Jan van Goyen. As the title of his book suggests, he looked upon de Molijn as a painter in the shadow of his great contemporary Jan van Goyen, even as he acknowledged de Molijn’s individual qualities.10 Stechow, Allen, and Beck observed that de Molijn produced hardly any dated paintings or drawings between 1630 and 1640. Stechow even went so far as to call de Molijn “an enigmatic master” because of this presumed lack of productivity.11
From this we can conclude that scholars do not always agree on de Molijn’s place among contemporary landscape painters. They all mention his role as a pioneer of the tonal phase of Dutch landscape around 1625, but their viewpoints differ on his position after 1630. Some equate his talents with those of Jan van Goyen, Salomon van Ruisdael, and Esaias van de Velde, however more often his work after 1630 is considered mediocre and lacking the originality of his rivals. The two most important standards present-day art historians have applied to de Molijn’s work are originality (or lack thereof) and imitation, the first used as a positive qualification (when it is present) and the second negative. Terms often used in this context are influence and inspiration. De Molijn deserved a place among the famous painters of the Golden Age because around 1625 he was a trendsetter who influenced Jan van Goyen and was a source of inspiration to many other painters. However, after 1630 he can be considered an epigone of such artists as van Goyen and van Ruisdael as he was inspired by them rather than acting as a source of inspiration himself. Moreover, he became regarded as outmoded later in life because he fell back on the sources of inspiration of his formative years. De Molijn’s artistic importance is not so much determined by the quality of his work as by what these art historians considered to be his innovative approach to landscape painting in the period around 1625.
Eric Jan Sluijter recently published the first volume of Rembrandt’s Rivals. In this excellent study, he shows the diversity in Amsterdam history painting, how artists distinguished themselves from others, and how they tried to build a reputation. In the introduction, Sluijter argues that one should not approach art in terms of influence, nor should scholars use such words as inspiration. Both deny the artist’s agency. Sluijter prefers to apply the concept of artistic competition, a conscious rivalry that is related to securing a social and economic position in the art market. He emphasizes that enormous pressure on the art market led to artistic competition at all levels. Because of the varied audience, an extensive range of types, quality, and price levels developed. In this highly competitive market, all artists were concerned with securing their niche, and their reputations were a key element in the process. As a result, such questions arose as: how should I position myself, what types of paintings should I produce, and how do I build a reputation?12
From 1615 onward, Haarlem distinguished itself from other artistic centers in Holland because of its relatively large production of landscapes.13 Artists there had to take up the same kinds of challenges regarding the market as the Amsterdam history painters analyzed by Sluijter. This article aims to use Sluijter’s approach and method to define the reputation of Pieter de Molijn in comparison with that of Jan van Goyen. The article addresses a central question: what was de Molijn’s reputation as a landscape painter during his lifetime and how should we define his position in the school of landscape painting that flourished in Haarlem during the first half of the seventeenth century? Were originality and innovation the decisive factors that determined the reputation of such painters as de Molijn or did other standards influence their success? In other words, was de Molijn’s reputation solely based on his early production of monochrome landscapes? The answer emerges from what we know about his life and work through such contemporary sources as documents in archives, city chronicles, and artist biographies.
Pieter de Molijn: Biography
All the important facts on the life of Pieter de Molijn were published in 2006 by Irene van Thiel-Stroman in the catalogue of the Frans Hals Museum. I will restrict this biography to those facts and circumstances that relate to his artistic development, and his position in society and among his fellow artists.14
Pieter de Molijn was baptized on April 6, 1595, in Austin Friars Church in London. His parents originally came from Brussels and finally moved to Holland during the first decade of the seventeenth century. The names of Pieter de Molijn’s teachers are unknown, but he was most likely placed in the charge of a painter who originated from Flanders, as was the usual procedure in immigrant circles.15 His work shows that he studied the paintings of Roelant Savery and especially the prints of Esaias van de Velde and Jan van de Velde II (1593–1642), as well as other artists working in Haarlem, such as the painter/engravers Willem Buytewech (1591/92–1624) and Hercules Seghers (ca. 1589–ca. 1638).
In 1616, de Molijn was recorded as an independent master painter in the Haarlem Guild of Saint Luke. At that time Haarlem was one of the most important centers of artistic production in Holland. New types of painting were being developed, among them the so-called naturalistic Dutch landscape. Prints and the interaction between printmaking and painting were the decisive factors in the development of early Dutch landscape painting. As Melanie Gifford pointed out in 1998, Esaias van de Velde was the key figure in introducing what became a growing naturalism in Dutch landscape painting. The trend continued a decades-old tradition from the Southern Netherlands, both in technique and in the naturalistic representation of the Dutch landscape. Esaias van de Velde moved to The Hague in 1618 and in response to the court-influenced local market he began to paint more graceful, arcadian landscapes, moving back and forth easily between the two modes.16
Between 1616 and 1625, de Molijn made designs for several prints that were engraved by other artists, but we do not know of any signed paintings dating before 1625.17 He may have concentrated first on drawing and designing prints before turning to painting.18 It is still unclear when de Molijn started to paint landscapes. Perhaps it took him some time to recognize their potential. As a young artist, between 1616 and 1625, he responded to the artistic challenges of his time and compiled a memory bank of images by his favorite artists, including Abraham Bloemaert, Gillis van Coninxloo (1544–1607), David Vinckboons (1576–1632), Roelant Savery, and especially Esaias van de Velde. Allen emphasizes that these painters and printmakers had a profound influence on the artistic choices de Molijn was to make later in life. Such seventeenth-century sources as probate inventories show that he experimented with different types of landscapes, for example bataljes that remind us of Esaias van de Velde.
In the period around 1630 de Molijn was a respected artist.19 He could afford to buy a house on the Oude Gracht in Haarlem for the sizeable sum of 3,100 guilders. Moreover, he was appointed dean of the Haarlem Guild of Saint Luke in 1632. Previously, this leading position had always been held by artists of local, mostly Roman Catholic, descent; Pieter de Molijn was a Protestant and the first son of an immigrant to hold this honorary position in the guild.20
De Molijn became dean during a time of fierce competition, both within the Haarlem artistic community itself as well as from other Dutch towns. In the years that followed, Pieter de Molijn and Salomon van Ruisdael both took a stand for offering new opportunities for local artists. In around 1625, de Molijn became one of the first to recognize the commercial possibilities of tonal landscapes, which had relatively low production costs. Together with a small group of artists, he advocated for granting permission to sell these relatively cheap paintings on a larger scale, for example, by organizing auctions and lotteries. He argued that these market strategies would create a whole new range of potential clients, buyers who had previously not been able to afford paintings, particularly paintings of good quality. This would open up new markets to artists who had just started their business, as well as to lower cost works by de Molijn himself and other artists who were following in the footsteps of market leaders.21
No sign can be found of any decline in originality within de Molijn’s body of work after 1630 (the decline presumed by Stechow and others) nor any loss of respect by guild members. He was reappointed to the board of governors of the organization, both as vinder and dean, in 1637, 1638, 1645, and 1649.22 His position as an appraiser of art collections points to the fact that connoisseurs valued his artistic opinion.23 Thus after 1630, de Molijn was still highly respected not only by local artists but also by the public.
Allen suggests that the enigma of the 1630s, namely the lack of signed and dated paintings and drawings—according to her indicating diminished production—can be explained by de Molijn’s activities as dean of the Guild of Saint Luke.24 She overlooks the fact that this was primarily an unpaid honorary position. Artists would not have agreed to fulfill these duties if this prevented them from running their businesses. On the contrary, one can imagine that being dean brought esteem to a painter and may even have resulted in more work. Not only did de Molijn promote ways of selling cheaper pictures, he was also one of the artists who contributed to auctions and lotteries.25 This indicates that de Molijn himself produced low-cost paintings and actively used the selling methods he advocated. It is therefore unlikely that his production would have decreased as a result of his activities for the guild.
Pieter de Molijn passed away in 1661 in his house on the Oude Gracht in Haarlem. Various primary sources show he was a man of wealth and esteem. The respect bestowed by his community allowed him to fill several honorary functions apart from dean of the Guild of St. Luke: he was appointed deacon of the Dutch Reformed Church and grachtmeester of the Crayenhorstergracht quarter. He was a respected painter outside his hometown as well—pupils came to him from Alkmaar (Allart van Everdingen [1617–1675]) and Deventer (Gerard Ter Borch [1617–1681]). He enjoyed greater success than Jan van Goyen, who ended up bankrupt in The Hague, and Salomon van Ruisdael, who was forced to take on a second business to make ends meet.
Reputation and Artistic Status
The reputation of Jan van Goyen, Salomon van Ruisdael, and Pieter de Molijn during the Golden Age is affirmed by the appearance of their names in such primary sources as city chronicles and volumes of artists’ biographies—witness the monumental work of Arnold Houbraken, written at the beginning of the eighteenth century—and in the praise used to refer to them. Sluijter outlines Jan van Goyen’s reputation as starting with the reference to him in Mijn jeugd, the autobiography of Constantijn Huygens (1596–1687).26 The first biography of Jan van Goyen was published by the Leiden city secretary and writer Jan Orlers (1570–1646) in his city chronicle in 1641.27 Orlers was the source for the long biography of van Goyen in Houbraken’s Groote Schouburg at the beginning of the eighteenth century.
De Molijn also received a lot of attention in written sources from the Golden Age, although slightly less than Jan van Goyen. His name appears for the first time in Het lof der stad Haerlem in Hollandt, an anonymous publication of 1621 that is usually ascribed to Samuel Ampzing (1590–1631).28 He is the final artist whom Ampzing considers worth mentioning; his name follows that of the glass painter Jan Philipszn van Bouckhorst (1598–1631), probably because de Molijn was still primarily a printmaker at that time. In 1628 Ampzing published a more detailed history of Haarlem, and he mentioned de Molijn, together with the now almost unknown landscape painter Jan Jacobszn Guldewaghen (?–1610).29 Ampzing wrote about de Molijn’s stout (daring) brushwork and his handeling (style of painting). Following in Ampzing’s footsteps, Theodorus Schrevelius (1572–1649) published his history of Haarlem in 1648, in which he mentioned de Molijn as a landscape painter. He grouped him together with Cornelis Vroom (ca. 1591–1661) and Salomon van Ruisdael, but with the qualification that de Molijn and Cornelis Vroom were uytsteckend meesters (excellent masters), whereas van Ruisdael was evaluated as a gemeen schilder (a mediocre painter) just like the now almost completely forgotten Reyer Claeszn Suycker (ca. 1577–ca. 1636).30 It is remarkable that Schrevelius describes de Molijn as a painter whose skills are comparable to those of Cornelis Vroom, who is known for his technical refinement. But Vroom never painted tonal landscapes executed in broad, vivid brushwork, the kind of works for which Jan van Goyen and Salomon van Ruisdael are now famous.31
We can conclude from this that city chronicles mentioned Jan van Goyen, Salomon van Ruisdael, and Pieter de Molijn during their lifetimes. Orlers’s biography of Jan van Goyen is much more elaborate than the biographies of either Pieter de Molijn or Salomon van Ruisdael by Ampzing and Schrevelius. However, these discrepancies are, at least partly, the result of differences in the perspective that was chosen by the authors, not by the fact that van Goyen was more famous than his two contemporaries. Remarkably enough, Schrevelius in 1648 ranked de Molijn above Salomon van Ruisdael and compared his style to that of Cornelis Vroom.
In around 1650, both van Goyen and de Molijn were considered fine landscape painters, but this changed during the final quarter of the seventeenth century. By that time van Goyen was well established as a painter who specialized in monochrome landscapes executed with quick, vivid brushwork.32 This was also the case at the beginning of the eighteenth century, when Houbraken copied Orlers’s long biography of Jan van Goyen in his Groote Schouburgh. He characterized Pieter de Molijn’s work in one sentence, the opening words of this article: “(he) was an accomplished painter of landscapes, clear in the way he rendered distances and glowing in his foregrounds.”33 By 1720, when Houbraken was writing, van Goyen was still well known and worth a rather long biography, but by then Pieter de Molijn was almost forgotten.
Other primary sources with insight into the reputation of artists during their lifetimes are probate inventories, which indicate the artist’s reputation with the general public. In the case of Jan van Goyen, Sluijter concluded that no other artist was mentioned so frequently in probate inventories.34 It is notable that his name not only occurs in the cities where van Goyen lived and worked but in almost all the other large towns in Holland as well. Landscapes by van Goyen seem to have been easily recognizable by these appraisers with or without the artist’s signature. One can argue that his name may have become a generic term for a certain type of landscape. That van Goyen stood for a certain type of work and level of quality, and therefore a value worth mentioning, is illustrated by the fact that in some cases van Goyen is the only name that occurs in probate inventories among otherwise anonymous painters. The same is true of Pieter de Molijn, although not of Salomon van Ruisdael.35
Van Goyen may have had a style that was easy to recognize but remarkably enough Pieter de Molijn seems to have been almost his match. Sometimes both artists were named in the same inventory. We can conclude from this that appraisers recognized the differences in style but, more importantly, that the names of both painters were worth noting down; apparently this added to the value of these landscapes.
A detailed analysis of probate inventories mentioning Jan van Goyen and/or Pieter de Molijn in various large cities in Holland leads to a number of conclusions. Jan van Goyen’s name occurs in an inventory as early as 1627 and that of de Molijn in 1629. This implies that their paintings were recognized and worth mentioning early on in their careers. In Haarlem, Jan van Goyen was named most frequently of all artists until 1670, but Pieter de Molijn came second. Salomon van Ruisdael who, as has already been pointed out, was described in 1648 by Schrevelius as a mediocre painter, was not mentioned once in inventories before 1658, either in or outside his home town of Haarlem. This changed between 1658 and 1670, which seems to indicate that his reputation grew after his death.36
In Willemijn Fock’s selection of Leiden inventories, Jan van Goyen is named frequently and Pieter de Molijn again comes second.37 Salomon van Ruisdael was not mentioned once in this selection of Leiden inventories.
Before 1650 the names of both van Goyen and de Molijn occur frequently in probate inventories in Amsterdam.38 It is remarkable that de Molijn was mentioned more often in inventories before 1635 than van Goyen. There was a significant change between 1650 and 1681, when van Goyen was named thirty-three times in twenty-three inventories and de Molijn “only” nineteen times in twelve. The Amsterdam landscape painter Barend Theunisz Drenth owned works by van Goyen and de Molijn in 1629, as did many other Amsterdam art collectors.39 This not only suggests that clerks could ascertain the different styles, but that both painters were valued by these Amsterdam owners.40 Salomon van Ruisdael is not mentioned once in the inventories published by John Michael Montias.
This leads to the conclusion that Pieter de Molijn’s landscapes were recognized by clerks not only in Haarlem, but in Amsterdam, Leiden, and The Hague as well. 41 Unlike that of Jan van Goyen, de Molijn’s name does not occur in probate inventories in such cities as Delft and Rotterdam.
Until around 1650 the reputations of van Goyen and de Molijn were more or less comparable, but from that time onward van Goyen became the rising star. Moreover, we can conclude that Salomon van Ruisdael is only mentioned once or twice in Haarlem during the second half of the seventeenth century although he seems to have been as productive in making his tonal landscapes. This indicates that appraisers did not think mentioning his name would add to the value of the painting, and this is all the more remarkable because Salomon van Ruisdael is considered to be one of the most important representatives of the tonal phase of Dutch landscape painting by present-day art historians.42
Sluijter shows the significance for artists of being represented in the collections of the rich and the powerful. According to him, the role of art lovers and connoisseurs was crucial for an artist’s reputation. Samuel van Hoogstraten emphasized that it was important for an artist to have good connections and for his paintings to be sold to influential clients. This was a valuable form of advertising. If your work was held in high esteem by wealthy merchants and well-known art collectors, you could acquire fame and, more importantly, you could ask a higher price for your paintings.43 It was therefore profitable for painters and good for their reputation to give or sell their works to collectors and people in high places.
Van Goyen’s landscapes are a case in point. A wide range of inventories mention them: those of craftsmen, small merchants, aristocrats, and art collectors. Some buyers had only a few guilders to spend on luxury, while others were incredibly rich. Although these landscapes were not the most (monetarily) valued possessions for art lovers, they must have particularly appreciated the artistic qualities and the atmospheric effects van Goyen achieved with his quick brushwork and an almost monochrome palette. The relatively low purchase price allowed connoisseurs to buy several paintings by van Goyen.44 The fact that the upmarket Amsterdam art dealer Johannes de Renialme also traded in works by van Goyen indicates that his landscapes were also bought by the city elite.45
In this respect, Pieter de Molijn again was a match for Jan van Goyen. Some of the Haarlem owners were magistrates or belonged to the local gentry.46 Outside Haarlem, the collector Jan van de Capelle not only had works by Jan van Goyen in his constcamer but a nachtje (a little night landscape) and fifty-seven drawings by Pieter de Molijn as well.47 Ferdinand Bol’s (1616–1680) contribution to his marriage with Anna van Arckel (died 1680) in 1669 was a sizeable collection of paintings, consisting of, among others, works by his teacher Rembrandt (1606–1669) and by such artists as Jan Porcellis, Willem Kalf (1619–1693), and Pieter de Molijn.48 De Molijn was also represented in the estate of the art dealer Johannes de Renialme in 1657, although it has to be admitted that the landscapes by de Molijn and van Goyen are among the lower priced works in this estate.49
De Molijn’s reputation among art lovers is underlined by the special visit paid to the artist’s workshop in Haarlem in1647 by the Utrecht connoisseur and collector Willem Vincent van Wyttenhorst (ca. 1613–1674). He bought a marine painting with the modest dimensions of 28.5 x 55 cm for 40 guilders. This emphasizes once more that de Molijn’s reputation with art lovers had not diminished after 1630.50
The Value of Landscapes by Pieter de Molijn, Jan van Goyen, and Salomon van Ruisdael during the Seventeenth Century
In the open market, success or failure was determined on the basis of an artist’s reputation. Prospective customers recognized differences in quality, novelty, and ingenuity. The “ranking” of an artist had immediate consequences for the prices they could ask for their pictures and for the value of their work. During the seventeenth century, prices were no longer solely based on size, labor, or materials but also on a painter’s reputation. A tonal landscape could be made in less than a day using inexpensive pigments and other materials, and thus the production costs came to only a few guilders. As we will see, people appreciated the artistic value of the unique way the atmosphere of the Dutch landscape was represented by these artists, and they were willing to pay a much higher price depending on the artist’s reputation.
Sluijter analyzed the value of landscapes by Jan van Goyen and came to the following conclusions. Before 1660, the average price was 19.2 guilders. The cheapest paintings were valued at only a few guilders each, the most expensive at 54 guilders.51 Sluijter maintains, however, that these valuations were usually not comparable to the amount that was paid directly to van Goyen for his landscapes. He suggests that the prices on lottery lists may indicate the original purchase price.52 Sluijter concludes that clients were expected to pay around 40 guilders for an average-size landscape in the artist’s shop, twice the average value if the work were acquired from other sources.53
There are thirty-one valuations of paintings by Pieter de Molijn in inventories and auctions dating before 1665.54 In 1647 the highest appraisal of a painting by de Molijn was 50 guilders in the estate of the Amsterdam merchant Isaack van Gherwen.55 The lowest valuation was 1 guilder in 1660 in the estate of the Amsterdam frame-maker Jan Willemszn Bus.56 Half of these valuations were higher than 10 guilders, and most paintings assessed lower than 10 guilders were described as “small landscapes.”57 Until 1665 the average value of landscapes by de Molijn was 18.85 guilders, a marginal difference compared to the 19.2 guilders calculated by Sluijter for paintings by Jan van Goyen.58 After de Molijn died, the prices for his paintings dropped to an average of 8.37 guilders.
Seventeen paintings by de Molijn were advertised in three different lottery lists between 1634 and 1645. The prices are comparable to those for works by Jan van Goyen.59 The average price for landscapes by de Molijn in lotteries is 53.66 guilders, much higher than the 38.1 guilders for paintings by van Goyen, but this is mostly due to the fact that some of his landscapes were described as large pieces.60 It is remarkable that this average is comparable to the highest valuation in the probate inventory of Isaack van Gherwen mentioned above.61 We can conclude that, during his lifetime, the paintings of Pieter de Molijn had a value and an original purchase price that were comparable to those of Jan van Goyen. This assumption can be confirmed by an analysis of assessed inventories that mention work by both van Goyen and de Molijn. In general, these valuations appear to be comparable, although work by van Goyen is usually valued slightly higher than that of de Molijn.62
Schrevelius judged Salomon van Ruisdael a second-rate artist in 1648. His evaluation is confirmed by the prices that were mentioned for his paintings at that time, which were worth approximately half the value of de Molijn’s landscapes.63 This supports Schrevelius’s remark from 1648 that Pieter de Molijn had excellent qualities as a painter, but that Salomon van Ruisdael’s skills were considered to be average.
We can conclude from these data that between 1630 and 1650 the prices and values of de Molijn’s landscapes almost equaled those of Jan van Goyen and therefore little difference can be discerned between their reputations as expressed in valuations. Moreover, these prices and valuations seem to confirm the remark by Schrevelius that it was Salomon van Ruisdael who was considered a mediocre landscape painter rather than de Molijn. Finally, the large gap between the lowest and highest valuations cannot be explained only by the paintings’ sizes; quality differences must also have played a role. In other words, it is probable that these higher and lower prices and valuations indicate different kinds of paintings.
De Molijn’s Business Model
In their articles on Esaias van de Velde and the art market during the first decades of the seventeenth century, Melanie Gifford and Eric Jan Sluijter observed that van de Velde worked in different techniques for various clients. His oeuvre includes paintings executed in a narrative style with a refined technique, on the one hand, and, on the other, schematic landscapes executed with loose brushwork, thin paint layers, and fewer figures, which thus were much cheaper to make. They suggest that van de Velde made these paintings for different target groups.64 It seems that Esaias van de Velde functioned as an example for de Molijn not only because of his prints and paintings but also for the organization of his business. De Molijn added figures to his landscapes in much the same way that van de Velde did: often they are painted so thinly that the landscape shines through. Another sign of the commercialization of his production methods is his frequent use of basic concepts for his landscapes, such as a panorama of dunes (fig. 3) or a river landscape with a bridge, with slight variations in the form of an element added here or there (fig. 4). A third sign of commercial production is that de Molijn often reused certain elements in his paintings, such as covered wagons (fig. 5: compare fig. 2). Working with basic concepts and variations, recycling motifs, employing loose brushwork, and limiting the amount of colors lowered the production costs of paintings, making them available for a wider public.
From 1625 on, de Molijn made paintings in both techniques: colorful narrative landscapes executed with technical refinement and monochrome paintings, finished within a day, in a technique that was perfect for rendering the atmosphere and the humidity of the Dutch landscape. The famous tonal Landscape with Dunes of 1626 in Braunschweig (see fig.1) is a fine example of de Molijn’s commercial production based on the early techniques and color schemes of Esaias van de Velde and Jan Porcellis. This work was intended for a different clientele from the colorful paintings with many figures such as Prince Maurits and Frederick Hendrick, dating from 1625, or the history subjects set in a landscape that we find in the probate inventory of the Amsterdam silk merchant Joris van Oorschot in 1671.65 This points to de Molijn’s production of paintings for different segments of the contemporary art market at the same time.
De Molijn seldom signed or dated the monochrome landscapes intended for the open market. Eva Jeney Allen pointed out that these paintings show hardly any artistic development, making it difficult to assign them a date.66 That these low-cost paintings were an important part of his business model is evidenced by de Molijn’s activities when he was appointed dean of the Haarlem Guild of Saint Luke. The colorful landscapes that were characterized by Stechow as outmoded show more variation. Remarkably enough, they often do bear dates and signatures, which implies that prospective buyers must have valued them as autograph paintings.
In her dissertation, Allen states that one of de Molijn’s characteristics was his flexibility as an artist. She suggests that he worked in several different styles and techniques and that throughout his life he was able to respond to the demands of various iconographical challenges with the appropriate styles.67 That may be so. But a more important incentive must have been to improve his position in the contemporary art market by producing paintings for different prospective buyers. The landscapes that, according to Laurens Jan Bol and Hans Ulrich Beck, demonstrated a special quality quite different from the landscapes of Jan van Goyen and his followers, were more colorful and elaborate in execution and were therefore more expensive than de Molijn’s monochrome landscapes with dunes. They appealed to wealthier clients who appreciated de Molijn’s subtle references to such famous landscape painters of the past as Roelant Savery and Esaias van de Velde, and they reflected such contemporary trends as the intense golden light of Italianate landscape painting that he included from 1650 onward. De Molijn consciously borrowed elements from renowned landscape painters from the past and present, transforming them into something entirely his own. In doing so, he demonstrated the principles of creative imitation that we find described in contemporary artistic theory, for example, the treatise written by Franciscus Junius in 1641.68 This is underlined by Reindert Falkenburg, who argues that painters did not generally turn to aggressive market strategies, such as innovation in the types of landscapes they painted; on the whole their strategy was defensive. They continued to make the most of types and alternatives that already existed. In his eyes: “the art market in the Golden Age did not encourage the invention of new types of paintings, but tolerated them.”69
Finally, the question arises whether de Molijn’s reputation with his contemporaries was based on his innovative monochrome landscapes produced around 1625. This can be deduced from the short descriptions of his work by Schrevelius and Houbraken. Schrevelius states in 1648 that de Molijn’s work is comparable to that of Cornelis Vroom, who is now famous for his refined craftsmanship and the subtle lighting of his panoramic landscapes, features that cannot be compared to the quickly executed, monochrome landscapes of Jan van Goyen and his followers.70 One can therefore assume that Schrevelius was praising de Molijn for the colorful landscapes with figures that Wolfgang Stechow characterized as old-fashioned.
At the beginning of the 18th century, Houbraken praised de Molijn with the words cited at the start of this article: “clear in the way he rendered distances and glowing in his foregrounds.” But what did he mean by “glowing in the foregrounds”?71 In his analysis of the term glow in Dutch artistic theory in the seventeenth century, Paul Taylor has shown that its meaning changed. In Gerard de Lairesse’s Het groot Schilderboek of 1707, the author refers not only to achieving a “warm effect” in painting skin tissue, as was usual at the beginning of the seventeenth century, but also indicates that green and blue could be “glowing” colors as well. He explained this view in a chapter on “Forceful objects against weak backgrounds.” De Lairesse emphasized that blue is a weak color, meaning that it is a color that recedes. An artist had to use pure green and blue in the foreground in combination with clear, but weaker colors and shadows in the distance, to create an effect of advancing rather than receding.72
De Lairesse explains the word glowing in the context of history painting, but this use of color can also be recognized in the panoramic landscapes with figures that de Molijn produced from 1640 onward. It can therefore be concluded that neither Schrevelius nor Houbraken praised de Molijn for his pioneering monochrome dune landscapes. Rather, they commended the pictures with a richer color scheme, subtle lighting, finely executed foliage, and robust figures that the artist painted later in life in conscious rivalry with landscape painters of the first decades of the seventeenth century.
While Pieter de Molijn is valued most by present-day art historians for the unpretentious monochrome landscapes he made for the open market, in his own day he was praised for his colorful landscapes, with their glowing foregrounds and subtle references to the works of such famous earlier landscape painters as Esaias van de Velde and Roelant Savery.
In the eyes of many art historians, the landscapes de Molijn produced after 1630 lacked the originality and panache of his pioneering tonal dune landscapes from around 1625.73 However, seventeenth-century sources point to the fact that de Molijn was a respected artist until the end of his life. His reputation as a landscape painter came close to that of Jan van Goyen. He owed this reputation to his refined craftsmanship and to his references to the tradition of landscape painting, both of which were valued by clients at the top end of the market. He was not a “conservative” because of his lack of talent but out of choice and artistic rivalry. He saw the commercial potential of combining low-cost production for the open market, while at the same time taking the risk of producing more time-consuming, well-crafted landscapes for richer clients, who must have been conscious of the fact that quality paintings could be the result of artistic rivalry. In the words of Franciscus Junius:
the artists who surpass all others are those who diligently pursue the old art with a new arrangement, thus adroitly bestowing their paintings with the pleasurable enjoyment of dissimilar similarity.74
It was not works like his Landscape with Dunes from 1626 (fig.1) that made de Molijn an outstanding artist for seventeenth-century art lovers, but rather paintings such as Peasants Returning Home, from 1647 (fig. 2), which ironically now slumbers in the depot of the Frans Hals Museum in Haarlem.