Jan van Kessel I (Antwerp 1626 - Antwerp 1679)

A River Landscape with Figures on a Track

signed ‘I. V. KESSEL. F.’ (lower centre)
oil on copper
25.4 x 33.7 cm (10 x 13¼ in)


Literature: Dr. Klaus Ertz & Christa Nitze-Ertz, Die Maler Jan van Kessel - Jan van Kessel d.Ä. (1626-1679), Jan van Kessel d.J. (1654-1708), Jan van Kessel der 'Andere' (um 1620-nach 1661), (Luca-Verlag, Lingen, Germany, 2012.)

A River Landscape is an unusual and delightful painting by Jan van Kessel I. A river runs straight back into the painting, drawing the eye from the foreground village, through the wooded landscape into the distance. Two boats sail off into the distance, having just passed under the wooden drawbridge which crosses the river and one of the boatmen turns to wave his thanks. The bridge is in the process of being lowered again and a mother and child patiently wait to cross. On the left-hand side of the picture the presence of two official looking figures, dressed in green uniformed capes, appears to have caused a small disturbance. One of these figures looks furious as a dog barks angrily at him from a distance, whilst other peasants, such as the man watering his horses, continue their day to day business. The setting is humble and rustic and the small thatched buildings are bathed in warm sunshine, making this a charming scene of everyday peasant life.

Van Kessel was trained by his uncle Jan Brueghel the Younger (1601-1678), who in turn worked in the celebrated style of his father,Jan Brueghel I (1568-1625). A River Landscape demonstrates the influence of his illustrious family on van Kessel, especially in this rare foray into landscape. If the present work is compared with Brueghel the Elder’s A Landscape with a Village on the Bank of a River, we can see that in both works the crucial compositional feature is the river running in a straight line through the work, guiding the eye through the landscape. This was a recurring motif in the landscape painting of both Brueghel the Elder and his son and reflects the influence they had on van Kessel, as do the comparable rustic genre scenes on the left-hand side of both works. The human activity enlivens the landscape and the invariable individualisation of the figures provides engrossing detail.

A River Landscape is an unusual work for van Kessel, and only a handful of other peasant scenes are known. He typically painted a range of still lifes and garland pictures, featuring animals, plants and insects. These show the influence of his uncle, his other teacher Simon de Vos (1603-1676) and his contemporary Daniel Seghers (1590-1661). These works are characterised by van Kessel’s attention to minute detail, and he was known to closely consult scientific texts whilst painting. He also occasionally painted biblical or mythological scenes. He had a highly successful career in Antwerp, specialising in slightly unusual subjects, and he also spent time in Spain, working as a court painter to Philip IV (1605-1665).

We are grateful to Dr. Alice I. Davies and Dr. Klaus Ertz for confirming the attribution.