Saturday, November 13, 2010

Masterpiece of the Week: “Sportsmen in the Dunes,” Jan Wijnants, 1669

Sportsmen in the Dunes
Jan Wijnants, 1669
Acquired by King George III
The Royal Collection
King George III’s much-documented love of collecting was not limited to English and French design. He also amassed an impressive array of Dutch paintings. Dutch painters of the Seventeenth Century were celebrated for their dramatic landscape paintings. King George III seemed to favor these epic compositions. Jan Wijnants’ 1669 canvas, Sportsmen in the Dunes is the perfect example of the grand landscape work of the Dutch.

When one thinks of Dutch landscape painting, the mind automatically conjures images of windmills. Windmills were, indeed, a common theme in Dutch painting. However, equally common were depictions of sand dunes. Both windmills and dunes were symbols of Dutch pride in their nationality and their ability to maintain their land. Here, Wijnants emphasizes the importance of the dunes by showing how they block the sea. A toppled tree adds drama to the scene and reinforces the idea that these dunes are protecting the land from the violence of natural forces. The large, dominant tree which rises in the center of the canvas shows that the land has been triumphant against the dangers of the sea. Meanwhile, the figures of the men are painted to show their wealth and prosperous nature—proving that man holds dominion over the land. Wijnants’ strength was the painting of the landscapes themselves and it is well known that he often employed other artists to paint human figures into his scenes.

Such a scene would be attractive to King George III who, himself, worried about issues of domination and threats of many kinds to his kingdom. Such a victorious painting would have offered comfort during trying times. It’s no wonder that he found this painting to be so inspirational.

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