Traces of the Hand: Master Drawings from the Collection of Frederick and Lucy S. Herman
Landscape and Seascape
Denys van Alsloot
Flemish, born before 1573–1625/1626
Landscape with Village, c. 1620–1625
Pen and black ink with blue wash
9 7/8 x 15 3/8 in, 25.08 x 39.05 cm (sheet)
Watermark: Shield (undecipherable)
Provenance: Acquired from Herbert E. Feist, New York, 1977
Gift of The Frederick and Lucy S. Herman Foundation, 2006.11.3
The son of a Flemish tapestry maker, Denys van Alsloot pioneered developments in landscape painting in Brussels at the beginning of the seventeenth century. Relatively little information is known of Alsloot’s life, though his importance can be deduced from the few available details of his career. Soon after joining the city’s painters guild in 1599, Alsloot was made official painter to Archduke Albert and Archduchess Isabella. While working for them, he produced not only landscape paintings but also images of court festivities and at least one set of tapestries.
Aside from these works, Alsloot has also been assigned a small corpus of mostly unsigned pen and wash drawings in the vein of Gillis van Coninxloo and Jan Brueghel the Elder, to whom the majority of these drawings were formerly attributed.1 Alsloot’s drawings, however, are characterized by a more open pictorial space than works by Coninxloo, whose densely packed foliage is frequently pushed to the front of the pictorial plane. Alsloot’s hand can also be seen in the characteristic horizontal hatching along tree trunks, some of which can be detected in the tree along the right border.
The composition of the Herman sheet is typical of works by Alsloot, where two trees frame an open area with cottages in a meandering landscape. While his landscapes appear conventional, many of his paintings are known to depict topographically accurate views of the forest of Soignes near Brussels, and it seems possible that the present view may have been drawn during one of Alsloot’s forays through the local landscape.
Alsloot’s Landscape with Village is almost surely a late work. The freedom of his lines and impressionistic use of wash stands in stark contrast to the tight execution seen in works like the Forest Landscape with a Distant Castle at the J. Paul Getty Museum, a rare signed and dated drawing from 1608. The style and medium of the Herman drawing more closely resembles two drawings by Alsloot in Münich, both of which have been dated to the 1620s.2
1. Wolfgang Wegner, "Zeichnungen von Denis van Alsloot," Oud Holland 76, 1961, 206–7. According to an undated note in the Museum curatorial files, Wegner also accepted this drawing as by Alsloot.
2. Wolfgang Wegner, Die niederländischen Handzeichnungen des 15.–18. Jahrhunderts. Kataloge der Staatlichen Graphischen Sammlung München, Berlin, 1973, nos. 202 and 203, pl. 114.