At the Royal Academy’s Jacob van Ruisdael exhibition there are several landscapes showing the local bleaching grounds, where lengths of cloth cover the ground, like abstract collages, blank canvases or (at a stretch) Christo wraps. In the ZurichView of Haarlem with Bleaching Grounds(c1665) for example, the cloth emphasises the light falling in the middle of the wide flat vista, an effect you often see in Ruisdael’s panoramic landscapes. Here is a description of a similar view from the Timken museum site: “Haarlem linen had a great reputation in the seventeenth century, and the linen industry was enormously important to the city's economy. Clothing and uncut cloth were bleached in the fields around the city in a process that took several months. Ruisdael, one of the most important seventeenth-century Dutch landscape painters, completed about fifteen views of Haarlem showing the linen-bleaching fields. In this richly textured canvas, as in other landscapes of the subject, the artist arranges the buildings and rows of linen to lead the eye diagonally through alternating areas of shadow and light.” Whether these paintings could be criticised or praised for transforming scenes of industry into harmonious pictorial compositions is, perhaps, ultimately a matter of taste.
The RA magazine has an article by Jenny Uglow on Ruisdael to accompany the exhibition here.