Old Master Paintings, Drawings, and British Portraits


WILLEM MARIS (The Hague 1844 – The Hague 1910)

Cows in a Polder Landscape

signed Willem Maris in the lower right

oil on canvas

15 ¾ x 20 ½ inches          (40 x 50.8 cm.)


Private Collection, New York, circa 1950 until the present time


Mattheus Maris and Hendrika Bloemert had three sons, Jacob, Matthijs and Willem, all of whom became artists. Willem, originally called Wenzel, was the youngest and received his first drawing lessons from his older brothers. Later he took evening classes at the Haagse Academie and sought guidance from the animal painter Pieter Stortenbeker but ultimately was mainly self-taught. He was always drawn to cows along with ducks, willows and canals, and they become the focal point of his art. In his own words, he painted cows “for the sake of the sun.” Explanatory as well as revelatory, Maris’ statement provides transformative access into his artistic quest. Out of all the Hague School painters, Maris’ works were the closest to those of the French Impressionists.[1]

Maris first exhibited in 1862 at the Tentoonstelling van Levende Meesters (Exhibition of Living Masters) in Rotterdam with Cows on the Heath. This was also the year he met and formed a lifelong friendship with Anton Mauve. In 1865 he traveled along the Rhine with Bernard Blommers. In 1867 he visited Paris to celebrate his brother Jacob’s wedding and in 1871 went to Norway with fellow artists Frederik van Seggeren and Alexander Wüst. With the exception of these three trips and occasional forays into Belgium, Maris spent his life living in or near The Hague. Starting in 1868 Maris shared a studio with Blommers. In 1876 Maris along with Anton Mauve and Hendrik Mesdag founded the Hollandsche Teeken-Maatschappij (Dutch Drawing Society). In 1880 George Hendrik Breitner spent a year as a pupil of Maris, from whom he learnt his broad style of execution. The works of another pupil, George Jan Hendrik Poggenbeek’s paintings of cows and ducks, are often indistinguishable from those of his master. Other students and artists he mentored include Henriette van Hove, Johannes Karel Leurs, Frits Maris (nephew), Simon Willem Maris (son), Theo Mesker, Evert Moll, Frits Mondriaan, Augustine Hermine Obreen, and Cornelis Spoor.[2] 

Numerous examples of works by Maris can be found in the museums of Amsterdam, Arnhem, Dordrecht, Eindhoven, Enschede, Groningen, The Hague, Leiden, Otterlo, Rotterdam and Utrecht. Outside Holland museum holdings of Maris mainly reflect the countries in which the Hague School artists achieved their greatest popularity, notably Britain, Canada and the United States. These museums included those of Aberdeen, Boston, Brème, Cincinnati, Dundee, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Hamburg, London, Manchester, Montreal, Oxford, Philadelphia, Sheffield, St. Louis, Stuttgart and Toledo, Ohio.

In The Hague School, Dutch Masters of the 19th Century exhibition catalog Ronald de Leeuw pared down the essentials in Maris’ work to a few lines. “Willem Maris returned to the same simple motifs time and again: cows at a pool, a few willows, the vague silhouette of a windmill on the horizon. Using these elements, he created with his brush a series of lyrical paintings of unprecedented brilliance, making good his claim to paint not cows but the sunlight itself. In his work the Hague School finds its purest moment of “art for art’s sake”.[3]  In Cows in a Polder Landscape we find the visual embodiment of this testimonial. Under an enormous summer sky dotted with puffy clouds and soaring gulls, three cows stand in the foreground by a pool and a clump of golden-green willows. In the left midground, a sailboat skips across the water. In the right midsection, three more cattle graze by the melkbocht or milking-area in a bright green field marked by a wooden fence. In the distance, a series of windmills is discernible. Within this quiet moment Maris has ingeniously painted cows lit from behind, providing them with a celestiality and monumentality that would be forfeited if the process was reversed. Employing a vigorous brush the artist succeeds in entwining a nearly riotous range of colors, exemplified by the incongruous accents of deep blue, brilliant green and vivid red found along the foreground. A dazzling panorama of light defines Cows in a Polder Landscape, and as summarized by Guido Jansen, “In this respect Willem Maris had no peer in Holland; none of his friends of the Hague School could paint such sun-drenched landscapes.”[4]



[1] Biographical information taken from Dr. Jos. de Gruyter, “Willem Maris” in De Haagse School, volume II, Lemniscaat, Rotterdam, 1968, pp. 59-60; and Ronald de Leeuw, “Willem Maris” in The Hague School, Dutch Masters of the 19th Century, exhibition catalog, Royal Academy of Arts, London & traveling, 1983, p. 227.

[2] Ibid.; and Pieter A Scheen, “Willem Maris” in Lexicon Nederlandse Beeldende Kunstenaars 1750-1880, Uitgeverij Pieter A. Scheen BV, ’s-Gravenhage, 1981, p. 334.

[3] Ronald de Leeuw, op. cit., no. 84, p. 231.

[4] Guido Jansen, “Willem Maris” in Breitner and his age, Paintings from the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam 1880-1900, Waanders Uitgevers, Zwolle, 1995, p. 62.

Lawrence Steigrad Fine Arts

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