The Dutch painter Jan van Goyen (1596-1656) was a leader in the progressive landscape style of the 1630s and 1640s, which achieved a new freedom from traditional formulas.
Jan van Goyen was born in Leiden on Jan. 13, 1596. Apprenticed from the age of 10, he had several masters. About 1617 he went to Haarlem to study with Esaias van de Velde, an important innovator in the Haarlem movement of realistic landscape painting. Van Goyen's works between 1621 and 1625 are sometimes hard to distinguish from those of his teacher. They are colorful, detailed views of villages and roads, usually busy with people, as in Winter (1621).
It was Van Goyen's usual practice to sign or monogram and date his paintings. He traveled extensively through the Netherlands and beyond, recording his impressions in sketchbooks, occasionally with dates and often depicting recognizable scenes. Thus the chronology of his development is clear. His paintings of the late 1620s show a steady advance from the strong colors and scattered organization of his early works toward tonality and greater simplicity and unity of composition. By 1630 he was painting monochromes in golden brown or pale green; he played a leading part in the tonal phase of Dutch landscape painting.
In 1631 Van Goyen settled in The Hague, where he became a citizen in 1634. The simplicity, airiness, and unification of his compositions continued to increase in his abundant production of dune landscapes, river views, seascapes, town views, and winter landscapes. The River View (1636) displays a river so open and extensive as to suggest the sea, with reflections that prolong the vast and luminous sky. In its monumentalization of humble structures and its composition built on a firm scaffolding of horizontal and vertical forces, it forecast at this early date developments that dominated landscape painting in the 1650s and later.
In the Village and Dunes (1647) the traditional double-diagonal composition still exists, but it is dominated by horizontal and vertical accents. Stronger contrasts of light and dark replace the earlier tonality. In the last year of his life Van Goyen produced an eloquent new style, in which powerful forms stand out against the radiant sky and water in an exquisitely balanced composition (Evening Calm; 1656).
The commission in 1651 to paint a panoramic view of The Hague for the Burgomaster's Room shows the high regard in which Van Goyen was held. He was enormously productive; well over 1,000 of his paintings still exist, and almost as many drawings. Yet he died insolvent, perhaps because of losses in his various business ventures, and soon after his death on April 27, 1656, in The Hague, he was virtually forgotten. Interest revived in 1875, and from then on his popularity continued to increase, for the freedom and directness of his style and the liveliness of his brushstroke appeal to the modern eye, as do the intimacy and spontaneity of his drawings.
Hans-Ulrich Beck, Jan van Goyen (2 vols., 1970), is a catalogue raisonné in German of nearly 1,300 paintings and more than 1,000 drawings. Van Goyen is discussed in Wolfgang Stechow, Dutch Landscape Painting of the Seventeenth Century (1966).