Born in Naarden, Salomon van Ruysdael painted his earliest known dated painting, View of the Horse Market at Valkenburg, in 1626 (Stechow, op. cit., no. 136A, fig. 1). The artist met with almost immediate acclaim, as two years later chronicler Samuel van Ampzing praised Van Ruysdael's landscapes in his text Description and Praise of the town of Haarlem (Rooman, 1628). Alongside artists such as Pieter Molijn, Jan van Goyen and Pieter van Santvoort, Ruysdael developed 'tonal' dune landscapes, a seminal aspect of 17th-century Dutch painting.
In this tranquil scene, two shepherds rest on the sandy dunes in the foreground, while others can be seen on the summit of a grassy knoll. In the middle distance, two farmers busily repair the thatched roof of a rustic barn as a man walks along the wagon-rutted path leading toward a church steeple in the distance. The composition of Dune landscape with farmers, as well as the palette and receding diagonals, are typical of works by Ruysdael from the late 1620s and early 1630s; this painting can be compared with Road in the Dunes with a Passenger Coach of 1631 in the Szépmüvészeti Museum, Budapest (inv. no. 260). In the present painting, Ruysdael adopted an artistic device developed by Molijn in his dunescapes: a diagonal line that extends from the foreground to the middle distance, then moves in the opposite direction to the background. Ruysdael enhanced this formula by including a rickety fence in the middle distance, a compositional device that leads the viewer's eye from the yellow-brown foreground, to the bluish-green trees in the middle, and then deep into the background.
Ruysdael's quiet, contemplative painting may have been inspired by contemporary literature, in which the value of leisure as a recuperative interlude between periods of productivity was extolled (see P. Sutton, Masters of 17th Century Dutch Landscape Painting, Boston, 1987, p. 36). In a poem accompanying a series of landscape prints with farmers and peasants from 1614, poet G. Ryckius wrote: Most happy is he and truly blessed is the one who may spend his years free of burgher cares, so long as he lives securely under the thatched roof of his hut; his spirit does not become entangled by complications but remains happy, content with the possessions of his fathers (see F.W.H. Hollstein, Dutch and Flemish Etchings, Engravings, and Woodcuts, Amsterdam, 1949, nos. 420-438; quoted by A. McNeil Kettering, The Dutch Arcadia: Pastoral Art and Its Audience in the Golden Age, Montclair, 1983, p. 158).
Signature: Signed and dated 'S.V.Ruysdall. 1629.' (lower center)
W. Stechow, Salomon van Ruysdael. Eine Einführung in seine Kunst, Berlin, 1975, p. 103, no. 228A.
Private collection, Germany, circa 1971-1995.
with Galerie Sanct Lucas, Vienna, 1995.
Private collection, Boston, 1995-2006.