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A drawing of a road in the middle of a forest

A drawing of a road in the woods surrounded by tall trees. Four figures are shown walking in different directions. One man is walking toward a town in the distance, another is coming from the town into the woods and a couple of men walk together toward the road through the forest.

Identification and Creation

Object Number
Pieter Bruegel, the Elder, Netherlandish (Breda (?), Belgium 1526/30 - 1569 Brussels, Belgium)
Wooded Landscape with a Distant View toward the Sea
Work Type
Persistent Link

Physical Descriptions

Brown ink, brown wash, and white opaque watercolor over black chalk on blue antique laid paper
26 x 34.4 cm (10 1/4 x 13 9/16 in.)
Inscriptions and Marks
  • Signed: lower left, brown ink: 1554 brueghel
  • inscription: verso, graphite: 18


Recorded Ownership History
[Glerum, The Hague, 25 November 1991, lot 53, repr. (as Jan Brueghel the Elder)]. [W. J. van Leeuwen, Amsterdam] sold; to Maida and George Abrams, Boston, 1992 (without their mark, L. 3306); The Maida and George Abrams Collection, 1999.132.

Published Text

Drawings from the Age of Bruegel, Rubens, and Rembrandt: Highlights from the Collection of the Harvard Art Museums
William W. Robinson and Susan Anderson
Harvard Art Museums (Cambridge, MA, 2016)

Catalogue entry no. 15 by William W. Robinson:

This exceptional landscape first came to light at a sale in 1991, where it passed as a signed work by Jan Brueghel the Elder. When acquired the following year by Maida and George Abrams, it was attributed to an unidentified sixteenth-century Flemish artist. In 1994, Hans Mielke recognized the hand of Pieter Bruegel the Elder and affirmed that the inscription of the artist’s name at the lower left of the sheet is his autograph signature.1 In his catalogue raisonné of the artist’s drawings, Mielke singled out as unmistakable hallmarks of Bruegel’s technique the elegantly tapering branches of the foreground trees tipped with foliage abbreviated by pen strokes resembling the numeral 3, as well as the pattern of dots and irregular parallel lines that evoke the crowns of distant trees. He related the Harvard sheet to two landscapes by the artist in the National Gallery of Art, Washington, dating it to 1553 on the basis of its technical and stylistic kinship with Landscape with the Penitence of Saint Jerome (Fig. 1) and other drawings of that year.2 That Bruegel had inscribed the date 1554 to the left of his signature was only discovered after the publication of Mielke’s catalogue.3

About half of the roughly sixty surviving drawings by Bruegel represent landscapes. The Harvard drawing is one of two on blue (presumably Venetian) paper and the unique example of a work with highlights in white opaque watercolor.4 Bruegel began with a preliminary sketch in black chalk, the full extent of which is revealed in the infrared reflectogram (Fig. 2), and worked it up with ink, wash, and opaque watercolor.5 Although Mielke dismissed the opaque watercolor as a “rather awkward” addition by a later hand, it is surely original to the drawing. Bruegel’s choice of the blue paper support—a middle tone against which the draftsman works up and down the value scale—implies the eventual use of white heightening, and the combination occurs in numerous sixteenth-century Netherlandish drawings.6 Without the opaque watercolor, Bruegel’s composition would be incomplete, with many essential forms indicated only by the black-chalk sketch. The four trees at the far left and those in front of the church, for example, are rendered substantially in opaque watercolor over the chalk outlines.7 In most passages where the media came into contact, the opaque watercolor was applied over the pen work, as one would expect. However, in a few places the ink lines run over the watercolor, proof that Bruegel redrew selected contours after he added the heightening.8 While Netherlandish draftsmen had used white opaque watercolor on prepared blue paper since the early sixteenth century, the Italian context, as Royalton-Kisch noted, influenced Bruegel’s choice of media and support. Not only was the dyed blue paper that Bruegel selected for Wooded Landscape with a Distant View toward the Sea and his 1552 River Landscape widely available from Venetian paper mills, but contemporary Italians such as Federico Barocci used it for landscapes that are similar in technique to the Harvard work.9

In the drawings he produced in Italy from 1552 to 1554, Bruegel formulated compositional ideas that would inform his later paintings and prints and affect the course of landscape art in the Netherlands into the seventeenth century. These works incorporate into the Flemish tradition the dynamic space and sinuous trees that he encountered in drawings and woodcuts by Titian and Domenico Campagnola.10 That he actively engaged with the Venetian model is documented by his free copy, datable to around 1554, after a Campagnola landscape.11 In the Harvard drawing, he appropriated from the Venetians the grand, intertwined trees with undulating trunks and gracefully proliferating foliage that dominate the foreground, combining them with a panoramic scan over a Flemish church toward a faraway coast and high horizon recalling the “world landscapes” of Joachim Patinir and his followers.


1 Mielke recognized Bruegel’s authorship—and signature—from a photograph in January 1994. He examined the original drawing shortly before his death in April of that year.

2 Pieter Bruegel the Elder, Landscape with the Penitence of Saint Jerome (Fig. 1), 1553. Brown ink; signed and dated, 553 BRUEGHEL. 232 × 336 mm. Washington, D.C., National Gallery of Art, Ailsa Mellon Bruce Fund 1972, 1972.47.1. Hans Mielke, Pieter Bruegel: Die Zeichnungen (Turnhout, Netherlands, 1996), cat. 17; Nadine M. Orenstein, ed., Pieter Bruegel the Elder: Drawings and Prints (Rotterdam: Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen; New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2001), cat. 11. The artist’s other drawing in the National Gallery of Art is Peasants and Cattle near a Farmhouse, c. 1553/54. Mielke, cat. 8; Orenstein, cat. 19.

3 The date, which is fully visible only under magnification, was first observed by Martin Royalton-Kisch in 1999. William Robinson in Bruegel to Rembrandt: Dutch and Flemish Drawings from the Maida and George Abrams Collection (London: British Museum; Paris: Institut Néerlandais; Cambridge: Harvard University Art Museums, Fogg Art Museum, 2002), cat. 1.

4 The other drawing on blue paper is a landscape dated 1552 in the Musée du Louvre, Paris, INV 19733. Mielke, cat. 1, pp. 6 and 33; Martin Royalton-Kisch in Orenstein, pp. 16–17, repr. p. 15, fig. 10. Mielke described the support of the Louvre drawing as white paper toned with blue wash. Martin Royalton-Kisch and Nadine Orenstein, who subsequently examined the sheet, confirmed that it is in fact a dyed blue paper.

5 The infrared reflectogram of the underdrawing of the Harvard landscape (Fig. 2) is a composite of 108 images in a bandwidth of 1.5–1.8 microns. It was produced by the Straus Center for Conservation and Technical Studies, Harvard Art Museums. My thanks to the late Craigen Bowen, formerly the Philip and Lynn Straus Conservator of Works on Paper, for her help with the technical analysis and for producing this image. The black chalk sketch resembles preliminary sketches in brown ink, which were not worked up, on the versos of two other drawings by Bruegel of the same date: Mielke, cat. 21 verso, repr. p. 141, and cat. 22 verso, repr. p. 143.

6 Orenstein, cat. 14, p. 106. An example technically very similar to the Harvard drawing is Village among Trees, c. 1560, attributed to the Master of the Small Landscapes, Art Institute of Chicago, 1965.252.

7 Martin Royalton-Kisch, “[Review] Pieter Bruegel: Die Zeichnungen.” The Burlington Magazine, vol. 140, no. 1140 (March 1998): 207-208, p. 208; Orenstein, cat. 14, pp. 106–7.

8 My thanks to Penley Knipe and the late Craigen Bowen for examining the drawing and discussing these technical points with me.

9 Royalton-Kisch in Orenstein, pp. 20–21.

10 Ibid., pp. 19–23; Orenstein, cat. 14.

11 Mielke, cat. 21; Orenstein, cat. 13.


Acquisition and Rights

Credit Line
The Maida and George Abrams Collection, Fogg Art Museum, Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts
Accession Year
Object Number
European and American Art

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Publication History

  • Hans Mielke, Pieter Bruegel: Die Zeichnungen, Brepols (Turnhout, 1996), cat. no. 7A, pp. 35-36 and 29 (n. 5), repr. p. 124
  • Martin Royalton-Kisch, "[Review] Pieter Bruegel. Die Zeichnugen", The Burlington Magazine (March 1998), vol. 140, no. 1140, pp. 207-208, no. 7a, p. 208, repr. fig. 68
  • Nina Eugenia Serebrennikov, "Hans Mielke 'Pieter Bruegel: Die Zeichnungen'" [Review], The Art Bulletin, College Art Association of America (New York, March 1998), vol. 80, no. 1, pp. 176-180, p. 178
  • William W. Robinson, "Abrams Dutch Drawings Given to the Fogg Art Museum, Cambridge, Mass.", Apollo (December 1999), vol. 150, pp. 14-16, p. 15, repr. fig. 2
  • James Cuno, ed., A Decade of Collecting: Recent Acquisitions by the Harvard University Art Museums, Harvard University Art Museums (Cambridge, Mass., Spring 2000), p. 43, repr.
  • Seymour Slive, "Collecting 17th-century Dutch art in the United States: the current boom", Bulletin van het Rijksmuseum (2001), vol. 49, no. 1, pp. 84-99, p. 98 (n. 11)
  • Harvard University Art Museums, Harvard University Art Museums Annual Report 1999-2000 (Cambridge, MA, 2001), p. 11, repr. p. 11 and cover
  • Nadine Orenstein and Manfred Sellink, Pieter Bruegel the Elder: Drawings and Prints, exh. cat., ed. Nadine Orenstein, Yale University Press (New Haven, CT and London, England, 2001), cat. no. 14, pp. 106-8, and 20, 37 (n. 36), under cat. no. 3, p. 90, under cat. no. 13, p. 104, under cat. no. 16, p. 110, under cat. no. 19, p. 115, under cat. no. 83, pp. 202 and 204 (n. 2), under cat. no. 97, p. 221, repr. pp. 12 and 107 (underdrawing)
  • Nina Eugenia Serebrennikov, "Pieter Bruegel the Elder: The Draftsman Revealed [Review of Pieter Bruegel the Elder: Drawings and Prints], The Art Bulletin, College Art Association of America (New York, September 2002), vol. 84, no. 3, pp. 501-510, pp. 503-504, repr. p. 505, fig. 4 (infrared of black chalk underdrawing)
  • Ger Luijten, "Rotterdam and New York, Pieter Bruegel the Elder's drawings and prints" [Review of exhibition and catalogue], The Burlington Magazine (2002), vol. 144, no. 1186, pp. 50-53, p. 51
  • William W. Robinson, Bruegel to Rembrandt: Dutch and Flemish Drawings from the Maida and George Abrams Collection, exh. cat., Harvard University Art Museums (Cambridge, MA, 2002), cat. no. 1, pp. 26-27 and 245, repr.
  • Jeanne Faton, "Entretien avec George Abrams: Dessins de l'âge d'or hollandais", L'Estampille/L'Objet d'art (April 2003), no. 379, pp. 46-55, repr. p. 46
  • Bobbie Leigh and Rebecca Dimling Cochran, "The Top 100 Collectors in America", Art & Antiques (March 2003), vol. 26, no. 3, entire issue, p. 48
  • Michiel C. Plomp, "[Review] Bruegel to Rembrandt. Dutch and Flemish Drawings from the Maida and George Abrams Collection.", Oud Holland (2004), vol. 117, no. 1/2, pp. 99-102, p. 101 (n. 3)
  • Manfred Sellink, Bruegel The Complete Paintings, Drawings and Prints, Ludion Press Ghent (Ghent, Belgium, 2007), cat. no. 14, pp. 16 and 56-57, repr.
  • Stephan Wolohojian and Alvin L. Clark, Jr., Harvard Art Museum/ Handbook, ed. Stephan Wolohojian, Harvard Art Museum (Cambridge, 2008), pp. 88-89, repr. (including reproduction of infrared reflectogram)
  • Judith Mann and Babette Bohn, Federico Barocci: Renaissance Master of Color and Line, exh. cat., Yale University Press (U.S.) (Saint Louis / New Haven, 2012), pp. 257 and 261 (n. 17), repr. p. 258, fig. 79
  • Manfred Sellink, "The Dating of Pieter Brueghel's Landscape Drawings Reconsidered and a New Discovery", Master Drawings (2013), vol. 51, no. 3, pp. 219-322, pp. 301, 316, and 320 (n. 51), repr. p. 300, fig. 9, and p. 316, fig. 36 (detail)
  • Stijn Alsteens, [Review] William W. Robinson, with Susan Anderson, "Drawings from the Age of Bruegel, Rubens, and Rembrandt: Highlights from the Collection of the Harvard Art Museums" (Winter 2015), p. 531
  • William W. Robinson and Susan Anderson, Drawings from the Age of Bruegel, Rubens, and Rembrandt: Highlights from the Collection of the Harvard Art Museums, Harvard Art Museums (Cambridge, MA, 2016), p. 13; cat. no. 15, pp. 70-72, repr. p. 71 and p. 72 as fig. 2 (IR image)
  • Joanna Sheers Seidenstein and Susan Anderson, ed., Crossroads: Drawing the Dutch Landscape, exh. cat., Harvard Art Museums (Cambridge, 2022), pp. 24, 37, 81, 104 (n. 38), 226, 229, repr. p. 24 as fig. A
  • Crossroads: Drawing the Dutch Landscape, Master Drawings (2022), Volume 60, Number 3, pp.397-400, pp. 397-398; repr. as fig. 1 on p. 398
  • Malcolm Gay, Jam on a Rembrandt and other adventures in collecting, The Boston Globe, Boston Globe (08/05/2022), p.G6; repr. on p.G6

Exhibition History

Subjects and Contexts

  • Google Art Project
  • Dutch, Flemish, & Netherlandish Drawings

Verification Level

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