A fence running along a road beside a farm, a small mill in the distance; it doesn't sound unusual in any way. Take a drive in the country and you will pass similar scenes. But this rendition is peculiarly satisfying and you do not need to know that it was painted by the Dutch master Rembrandt van Rijn in the 17th century to be enjoy it.
So much gets conveyed with a minimum number of strokes. Take the fence beginning in the foreground and curving back toward the farm house: with thick brush strokes the artist outlines it in rich strokes but then changes his instrument to wispy pen scratches. By this means, he creates an impression of depth and perspective that your eye, once persuaded, follows into (rather than say, upward on the paper) the distance where the farm house sits.
The soft rose wash that covers the entire scene gives it a soft effect that has led to the longstanding alternative title Winter Landscape. Ant yet - the row of trees that forms a windbreak in the flat landscape is full of foliage. Those blank roofs may not be covered with snow after all. They may be rendered featureless by the daylight.
Rembrandt is known to have made a series of pen and ink drawings of rural scenes around the time he executed Landscape With Farmstead (1650). Their spontaneity underlines rather than undercuts his mastery of the medium. They also foretell the artist's increasing use of detail in painting, but that is another story. Minor works in Rembrandt's catalog, their retain a freshness and immediacy, these mementos of his rambles through the countryside around Amsterdam.
A poem of plural rural seasons seems an apt accompaniment to Landscape With Farmstead. British poet Philip Larkin grew up in Shropshire, a county of flat lands and fertile soils in the English Midlands, not so far removed from the maritime climate of the west Netherlands.
Lambs that learn to walk in snow
When their bleating clouds the air
Meet a vast unwelcome, know
Nothing but a sunless glare.
Newly tumbling to and fro
All they find, outside the fold,
Is a wretched width of cold.
As they wait beside the ewe,
Her fleeces wetly caked, there lies
Hidden round them, waiting too
Earth's immeasurable surprise.
They could not grasp it if they knew,
What so soon will wake and grow
Utterly unlike the snow.
- "First Sight" by Philip Larkin from The Whitsun Weddings, London, Faber & Faber: 1964
Rembrandt - Landscape With Farmstead, brown ink, brown wash, black chalk on laid paper, prepared with light rose-brown wash, 2 5/8 inches by 6 5/16 inches, Fogg Museum, Harvard Art Museums, Cambridge, MA.