Jacob van Ruisdael is one of the greatest of the Dutch landscape artists of the 17th century. This provides an overview of the artist's work and critical reception and offers as well a contribution to the discussion of issues of representation and meaning in landscape painting. The author considers Ruisdael's artistic and thematic development, paying special attention to the sources of his imagery in both nature and artistic tradition and to the influence of the wider cultural context on the artist's conception and transformation of his subject. Examining Ruisdael's works, Walford discusses various aspects of the painter's artistry: his themes and motifs, his selection, combination, and representation of particular elements of the landscape; his scrupulous observation of the details of indigenous vegetation and of the massing of clouds; and his understanding of the conflicting forces of growth and inevitable dissolution in nature. Walford shows how Ruisdael's scenes of forests, villages, and country roads evoke a serene image of the vigor, grandeur, and ultimate transience of nature.
Ruisdael's best works, says Walford, display a grandeur of conception and a brilliance of execution that captivate the eye and arouse the contemplative imagination.