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Identification and Creation
Object Number
Abraham Bloemaert, Dutch (Gorinchem, Netherlands 1566 - 1651 Utrecht, Netherlands)
Study of a Tree
Work Type
c. 1644-1646
Persistent Link
Level 3, Room 3600, University Research Gallery
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Physical Descriptions
Gray wash with black chalk and graphite, green and rose transparent watercolor, scraping and traces of white opaque watercolor on cream antique laid paper, toned with brown wash, framing lines in graphite and gray wash
16.3 x 26.9 cm (6 7/16 x 10 9/16 in.)
Inscriptions and Marks
  • watermark: Eagle with two heads, letter E and B on breast [similar to Heawood 1300, but with the additional letters; Amsterdam, 1644-6]
[Robert M. Light & Co., Boston, Massachusetts], sold; to Fogg Art Museum, 1957.
Published Text
Drawings from the Age of Bruegel, Rubens, and Rembrandt: The Complete Collection Online
Multiple authors
Harvard Art Museums (Cambridge, MA, 2017–)

Entry by Austeja Mackelaite, completed February 22, 2021:

The study of landscape was central to Bloemaert’s artistic practice from the beginning of his career.1 In addition to depicting dilapidated sheds, humble dovecotes, and rustic village roads, he was one of the first Dutch artists to produce studies of individual trees.2 An example of the artist’s uncompromising commitment to the depiction of landscape, observed naer het leven (“from life”), and his ability to capture picturesque qualities of natural forms, this sheet belongs to a group of more than 30 extant drawings featuring independent trees or tree clusters.3

Bloemaert was particularly attracted to contorted, irregularly shaped trees.4 Characterized by its roughly textured bifurcated trunk and a delicate web of wispy branches, the charismatic tree in the Harvard drawing extends horizontally across the sheet, almost filling the entire pictorial space. Although the tree has been previously described as pollarded—that is, pruned at the top in order to promote the growth of dense foliage— the absence of pruning cuts makes it unlikely. Instead, the drawing probably shows an ancient tree undergoing the process of retrenchment, when in the face of reducing nutrient and water supply, the tree naturally reduces its crown size and leaf area.5

While Bloemaert’s tree studies vary in size, degree of completion, and compositional arrangements, virtually all are produced using a combination of black chalk with pen and brown ink, with further addition of either watercolor or brown washes. It has been assumed that Bloemaert, who probably studied trees in the countryside around Utrecht, would have produced the initial sketch, usually in black chalk, in situ, and then used wet media to finish the composition in his studio.6 The Harvard drawing offers a rare instance in which the artist chose to omit the pen and ink campaign. In this technically sophisticated drawing, Bloemaert layered gray, rose, and green washes over a soft underdrawing in graphite and black chalk, and then used the same dry media to accent and reinforce parts of the composition. Some of the highlights on the left fork of the trunk were produced by scraping.7

It has been suggested that the specimen in the Harvard drawing served as the model for trees depicted in the background of Bloemaert’s painted Landscape with Mercury and Argus and in an etching by the artist’s son Frederick that reproduced a drawing by Bloemaert.8 While the trees included in those works are similarly bifurcated, their overall shapes differ significantly from the tree in the Harvard sheet, and as suggested by Jaap Bolten, are closer—though still not identical—to the specimen in a drawing in Munich.9 Bolten dates all Bloemaert’s tree drawings to the early period of the artist’s career, but the Harvard sheet belongs to a small group of related studies that bear the watermark of the double-headed eagle, similar to Heawoood 1300, which is associated with Amsterdam papers used in publications or documents with dates between 1644 and 1646.10 Considering differences in technique between this drawing and other studies by the artist, as well as the overall painterly character of the sheet, it is possible that the work dates to this later period.


1 See the catalogue entry for Bloemaert’s Dilapidated Farmhouse (1999.130) in William W. Robinson with Susan Anderson, Drawings from the Age of Bruegel, Rubens, and Rembrandt: Highlights from the Collection of the Harvard Art Museums (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard Art Museums, 2016), pp. 49–51. For the discussion of the so-called Berlin Album, which includes some of the earliest landscape studies by Bloemaert, see Jaap Bolten, “The Beginnings of Abraham Bloemaert’s Artistic Career,” Master Drawings 36 (1) (1998): 17–25.

2 For Hendrick Goltzius’s drawings of trees, which are traditionally dated to the period shortly before 1600, see E. K. J. Reznicek, Die Zeichnungen von Hendrick Goltzius (Utrecht: Haentjens Dekker & Gumbert, 1961), vol. 1, no. 397, p. 426; no. 402, p. 429; and p. 437; Michiel Plomp, “The Beauty or the Different Guises of Nature: Studies of the Natural World and Landscapes,” in Huigen Leeflang and Ger Luijten, eds., Hendrick Goltzius (1558–1617): Drawings, Prints and Paintings (Zwolle: Waanders, 2003), pp. 195–97. A number of tree studies by Bloemaert have been previously misattributed to Roelandt Savery. See, for instance, A Clump of Three Trees, brown ink over black chalk, gray wash, watercolor in green, yellow, and brown, with touches of white, on paper tinted pale pink, 285 × 190 mm, New York, The Morgan Library & Museum, 1972.9; A Leafless Pollard Tree, black chalk, brown ink, colored washes, and white opaque watercolor, 196 × 303 mm, Munich, Staatliche Graphische Sammlung, 34824.

3 Jaap Bolten, Abraham Bloemaert, c. 1565–1651: The Drawings (Leiden: [Privately printed], 2007), vol. 1, pp. 437–43; Jaap Bolten, “The Drawings of Abraham Bloemaert: A Supplement,” Master Drawings 55 (1) (2017): 102–5.

4 Susan Donahue Kuretsky, Time and Transformation in Seventeenth-Century Dutch Art (Poughkeepsie, N.Y.: Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center, Vassar College, 2005), pp. 150–51.

5 As suggested by John S. DelRosso, head arborist at the Arnold Arboretum of Harvard University, in an email to author, March 24, 2018. While this tree has previously been described as a willow, the definitive identification of the species is not possible, since the ends of the branches, leaves, buds, and bark are not rendered in great detail.

6 Holm Bevers, Aus Rembrandts Zeit: Zeichenkunst in Hollands Goldenem Jahrhundert (Berlin: Kupferstichkabinett, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin and E. A. Seemann, 2011), pp. 18–19.

7 My thanks to Penley Knipe, the Philip and Lynn Straus Senior Conservator of Works on Paper and head of the paper lab, and Anne Driesse, former senior conservator of works on paper, both in the Straus Center for Conservation and Technical Studies, for studying the drawing under the microscope with me.

8 See Kuretsky, Time and Transformation, p. 151n2; Marcel G. Roethlisberger, Abraham Bloemaert and His Sons: Paintings and Prints (Doornspijk: Davaco, 1993), pp. 349–47.

9 Bolten, Abraham Bloemaert, c. 1565–1651, no. 1489, p. 438.

10 Bolten, “The Drawings of Abraham Bloemaert,” p. 105; see also the entry for no. 1509 in Bolten, Abraham Bloemaert, c. 1565–1651, p. 442. The group includes a drawing from the Morgan collection, and the relevant watermark has been reproduced in Felice Stampfle, Netherlandish Drawings of the Fifteenth and Sixteenth Centuries and Flemish Drawings of the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries in the Pierpont Morgan Library (New York: Pierpont Morgan Library, 1991), watermark no. 10.

Acquisition and Rights
Credit Line
Harvard Art Museums/Fogg Museum, Friends of the Fogg Art Museum Fund
Accession Year
Object Number
European and American Art
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Publication History

Curtis O. Baer, ed., Seventeenth Century Dutch Landscape Drawings and Selected Prints from American Collections, exh. cat., Vassar College Art Gallery (Poughkeepsie, NY, 1976), cat. no. 5, pp. 12 and 26-27, repr. fig. 5

Thomas Bredsdorff, Et landskab af naturen malet: En tese om malernes natur, Kritik (Copenhagen, 1987), vol. 20, no. 79/80, pp. 56-70, pp. 59-60, repr. p. 59

Susan Donahue Kuretsky, Time and Transformation in Seventeenth-Century Dutch Art, exh. cat., Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center at Vassar College (Poughkeepsie, NY, 2005), under cat. no. 19, pp. 150-151, fig. 124

Jaap Bolten, Abraham Bloemaert, c. 1565-1651: The Drawings (Netherlands, 2007), vol. 1, cat. no. 1510, p. 442, repr. vol. 2, p. 445

Jaap Bolten, The Drawings of Abraham Bloemaert: A Supplement, Master Drawings (New York, 2017), vol. 55, no. 1, pp. 3-120, cat. no. 1510, pp. 104-105, fig. 340

Exhibition History

Seventeenth Century Dutch Landscape Drawings and Selected Prints from American Collections, Vassar College Art Gallery, Poughkeepsie, 03/28/1976 - 05/07/1976

32Q: 2300 Dutch & Flemish, Harvard Art Museums, Cambridge, 03/03/2016 - 07/19/2016

Crossroads: Drawing the Dutch Landscape, Harvard Art Museums, Cambridge, 05/21/2022 - 08/14/2022

Subjects and Contexts

Dutch, Flemish, & Netherlandish Drawings

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