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Audio Guide - Adult

River Scene, ca. 1640

Artist: Jan van Goyen, Dutch, 1596 - 1656

Medium: Oil on canvas

Painting: 25 3/8 x 30 in. (64.5 x 76.2 cm)
Frame: 32 x 37 in. (81.3 x 94 cm)

Credit Line: Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Morrie A. Moss

Object Number: 56.2

Not on view

Sale, Amsterdam, Frederik Muller & Cie, May 20, 1919, no. 125; Jonas Lek, Brussels, March 31, 1925; Sale, Amsterdam, Douwes, May 1925, cat. #3372; Howard Young Galleries, New York, New York; David Findlay Galleries, New York, New York; Mr. and Mrs. Morrie A. Moss, Memphis, Tennessee, 1956

Jan van Goyen was born in Leiden and studied in Haarlem with Esaias van de Velde. He was one of the most important and productive landscape painters of 17th-century Holland. Having encountered financial problems after speculating in tulips, van Goyen worked as an art dealer, collector, auctioneer, estate agent, and appraiser in addition to painting. Extremely prolific, he produced more than 1,200 paintings and over 800 drawings throughout his career.


Although completed in van Goyen’s studio, River Scene is based on drawings made from nature. The painting is marked by tonal unity and a low horizon line, as was common during the 1620s and 1630s. The diagonal line created by the river bluff is typical of van Goyen’s work and was a popular technique used to divide the canvas into two segments. As waterways were important for commerce, transportation, irrigation, and shipping, they were frequently depicted in Dutch art. Van Goyen enhances the viewer’s interest in the scene by the inclusion of a small boat with two figures inside traveling along the river, probably transporting baskets of produce to or from a market.


Beginning in the 1620s, landscape painting became popular in the Netherlands, and people bought them as enthusiastically as they bought still lifes and genre scenes. A great number of Dutch landscape paintings, like those painted by van Goyen, were produced for the open market. Typically, most emphasize the intimate relationship between humanity and nature through the inclusion of figures: farmers, hunters, herdsmen, and travelers. Here, van Goyen’s charming image shows travelers and a soldier in conversation and at rest by a river.