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A real debate about Dutch cloud painting

A real debate about Dutch cloud painting

Wheat Fields by Jacob van Ruisdael, c 1670

Wheat Fields by
Jacob van Ruisdael,
c 1670

Franz Ossing (member 9648) has drawn our attention to a lively debate in the art history world about whether the Dutch 17th-century masters painted realistic clouds.

There is no doubt the landscape artists of the Dutch “Golden Age”, like Jacob van Ruisdael, painted clouds beautifully. The question is whether the clouds in their paintings were meteorologically accurate.

Some art historians claim to be able to find the complete World Meteorological Organisation cloud atlas reproduced in landscapes from that period. Others argue that cloud forms were distorted to fit compositions and certain types of clouds that are typical for Holland did not appear in the paintings.

Read more about this here.

  • Elisabeth Eguia avatar


    February 12, 2012 at 10:33 am

    I don´t know if the clouds they painted were realistic or not, but no one did it as beautifully as they did. It is a source of inspiration to many of us.

  • Rob

    April 1, 2012 at 9:45 pm

    I have spent considerable time in the Netherlands. I too have marveled at the skyskapes of van Ruisdael, Cuyp, and Vermeer. Given the topography and weather of Holland, it is only natural that the sky would play such an important element in the landscape (or cityscape). Notice how many of these 17th century painters divided the canvas in half with the horizon line and giving equal drama to the nature of weather and the nature of man. All that said, I find van Ruisdal’s various painting of the Bleaching Fields to be the most compelling in terms of realism and artistic license–two not contradictory terms. When I flew into the Netherlands for the first time all those years ago, I do distinctly remember the aircraft dodging great stratocumulus cumulogenitus. Such weather features are nearly a daily occurrence there.

  • Rob

    April 1, 2012 at 10:00 pm
  • Bob Phelps

    April 21, 2012 at 7:49 pm

    Since I became interested in painting, I have paid particular attention to the sky and it’s clouds, and it seems to me, after years of observation, that there is an infinite variety of color, texture, form and shading to the sky.
    It would not surprise me if the skies seen in the Dutch Masters are representations of what they actually saw.

  • maria

    April 25, 2012 at 9:54 pm

    i have just been to holland on a short holiday – the fluffy clouds are no exaggeration: they made an impression on me from the day i went there – they look differnt to any skies i’ve seen before

  • Rienk

    November 7, 2013 at 6:23 pm

    Funny I just posted a series of photo’s in my portfolio on px 500 where I debated the dutch clouds nowadays. The photo in the link was made during stormy wheather a week ago. What a wonderful association by the way!

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