I have been very interested in this image ever since I saw it first. There was something about it which was far more than the simple picture of the cute little windmill and sea (not that either are cute or little, surely there is more to both in all cases). If the painter, Ruisdael, hadn’t beguiled us so thoroughly then why should I have cared?
First, the lighting is amazing. It seems that many things are going on at once. The sky says “a storm” but with huge holes in the clouds the likes of which we never see if there is a real storm there, the shadows of that storm seem to cast themselves to earth and water but they have no wind or rain to back them up, only gloom. The ships are becalmed on the left, their sails flaccid and flapping uselessly in the still air. There is a knot of girls skipping along at their chores to the right along the bulwark. You can’t see him well, but the miller is standing on the rickety balcony around the mill surveying the world as boldly as a duke his holdings. This is a landscape full of folks but they are like ants and only seem to reflect contained parts of the feel here.
The mill dominates all of the terrain. It is the strong X which demands our attention, bolstered up on a pedestal face to the wind It is almost the heroic figure here, grinding wheat to flour and more to serve the human need for commercial activity over the reverence for “nature” getting its way. But isn’t that a big theme with Dutch painting? After all, it was the Dutch who tamed the sea to make more livable space and farming lands. They have a reputation for being “stubborn” but maybe they are masterful beyond what most can do.
So, the Dutch harness the wind to do their bidding in addition to chilling them to the bone in the fall through the spring? Good for them!
The image is full of dynamic things: the sea and land, the sky and it’s voids, the outline of the mill, the waiting ships. All of those things positive and negative tell the story but I say that the thought of the X is what I am taking away from this with the almost poisonous light! It is so fair in some parts, and so dark and scary in others. Maybe the life on the North Sea is full of this sort of thing, but the common lore would say casually,”What is going on with the sun and the shadows?” It is strong contrast, I say. The kind of thing I don’t see outside tempestuous April where I live.
This windmill scene isn’t tame, and if the ship’s sails are not full now, there is no telling what that mad sky will do shortly from now, I think.
An exceptional image which I don’t think I will get to the bottom of any time soon.
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