The Valkhof at Nijmegen, with a coach on a ferry on the River Waal

(1646 Netherlands)


Artist(s): JAN JOSEFSZ. VAN GOYEN (1596-1656)
Medium: Oil on panel
Signed: Signed with monogram and dated lower left, on ferry boat: VG 1646

Mrs K. Bagley; Christie’s, London, 12 July 1946, lot 48, where purchased for 1,500 gns. by R.W. Lloyd, The Albany, London, and thence by descent; Christie’s, London, 10 July 1992, lot 7, where purchased by Johnny Van Haeften, by whom sold to a Private Collector, U.S.A.


A. Dobrzycka, Jan van Goyen, Poznan, 1966, no. 168; H.U. Beck, Jan van Goyen, Amsterdam, vol. II, 1973, p. 174, no. 358, ill.

Exhibition History:

Royal Academy, London, Dutch Pictures 1450-1750, 22 November 1952-1 March 1953, no. 237 (lent by R.W. Lloyd).


Nijmegen was one of the most important historic and patriotic sites in the Netherlands in the seventeenth century. The capital of the province of Gelderland, it is located on the south side of the River Waal, near the German border. The fortified town had long played an important role in the region as a stronghold of the Batavians, the Romans, Charlemagne, the Holy Roman Empire and finally the Dutch Republic. The mass of fortification surrounding the high tower on the hill is the Valkhof (falcon court), rebuilt in the middle of the twelfth century. Dutch independence, officially confirmed in 1609, turned writers and politicians of the time to the historic and ancient past in attempts to legitimize their new country. The writing of national and civic histories took on a special importance, with Nijmegen playing a prominent role because Tacitus specified it as the seat of Claudius (more properly Julius) Civilis, leader of the Batavian revolt against the Romans. The Batavian legend was essential to the mythologizing associated with the development of Dutch nationalism and patriotism. Charlemagne and his immediate successor made Nijmegen a major stronghold in the Middle Ages. These tales of historic glory were then considerably embroidered in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. In chronicles or lists of the cities of the Netherlands, Nijmegen is traditionally named first because of its antiquity; it is repeatedly hailed as the ‘mother city’, ‘Capital of the World north of the Alps’ and the seat of Claudius Civilis, ancient model of the Dutch struggle for independence. Nijmegen was thus depicted repeatedly by seventeenth-century Dutch artists not only because of its picturesque skyline and beautiful situation, but also because it stirred recollections of national origins and historical vicissitudes.

Jan van Goyen painted a large number of Nijmegen views from 1633 to about 1650, which suggests that the subject must have been extremely popular with his clientele. These depictions vary in format and size, but van Goyen appears to have favoured the present composition, which also provided the basic model for Aelbert Cuyp’s famous View of Nijmegen of around 1652-54 (Indianapolis Museum of Fine Art). In the Colnaghi picture, van Goyen’s point of view is closer and further to the right than Cuyp’s, so that the Valkhof is seen at a steep angle. Van Goyen emphasizes the vertical thrust of the buildings, while Cuyp presents a more distant and horizontal balanced view. Van Goyen’s diagonal, foreshortened composition recurs in Salomon van Ruysdael’s views of Nijmegen, which are based on van Goyen’s paintings rather than first hand observation.

Jan van Goyen began his apprenticeship at the age of ten in his home town of Leiden. Although he is known to have had six different masters, Esaias van de Velde, with whom he studied in Haarlem, is the only person who seems to have influenced his style. However, around 1626 van Goyen’s art changed, going well beyond van de Velde’s example. The change is closely linked to contemporary Haarlem artists’ creation of a specifically Dutch style of landscape painting that emphasized tonality and realism. Pieter Molijn, Salomon van Ruysdael and Pieter van Santvoort were the other principal exponents of this new development, which used native subject matter and more natural colours. The phenomenon is known by modern art historians as the ‘tonal phase.’ From 1629 and through the 1630s van Goyen produced simple landscapes showing dunes and rivers in brown and green tones, which achieve an impression of depth with the help of diagonals. In 1637 there was a pause in van Goyen’s creative activity, perhaps due to his speculation in tulips. Then, at the end of the 1630s, he began a period of classical harmony that unified picture and paint, producing works in which an idealized overall impression outweighs local colour.

Our painting is a particularly fine example of van Goyen’s work of the 1640s, demonstrative of the artist’s development away from a purely tonal style of golden browns of the late 1630s towards a more naturalistic - even poetic - range of soft grey-blues, greens, dark browns and greys. Max Friedländer wrote of the landscapes of Jan van Goyen and Salomon van Ruysdael that: ‘The weather in van Goyen’s pictures always makes one think: it will soon rain. Ruysdael’s pictures make one feel it has rained,’ and that vivid atmospheric impression is beautifully conveyed within the palette range and through the superbly confident brushwork. The composition of the Colnaghi picture is similarly characteristic of the period, based around the strong wedge shape frequently employed by van Goyen in his river landscapes, with the receding banks and craft on the river emphasizing the three-dimensional recession towards the horizon. In the 1640s buildings begin to assume an important role, from churches, castles, ruins, gates and towers to monumental town views, such as the View of Dordrecht of 1644 (National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C.) and the present View of Nijmegen. As seen here, the artist creates cloud patterns that cast shadows over the earth and lakes below, and sailing boats occupy an important place. In works of the early 1630s boats appear in the background of quiet river scenes, while by the 1640s they occupy an increasingly prominent foreground position.