The first twenty-five years of his life, Willem Roelofs lived alternately in Utrecht and The Hague, where he was taught by the animal and landscape painter Hendrikus van de Sande Bakhuyzen. In 1847 he moved to Brussels. The art climate there was more favorable for a starting painter than in the Netherlands. He did, however, remain an active member of Pulchri Studio and kept in touch with art life in The Hague. Roelofs would live in Brussels for 40 years. He was almost immediately successful with his paintings. Through exhibitions he became acquainted with the work of the Barbizon painters. He would adopt the realism with which they captured nature. Presumably he himself traveled in 1851 for the first time, and as one of the first Dutchmen, to the forests of Fontainebleau.
While Roelofs first sought inspiration in the Brussels area, from 1856 he traveled annually to the Netherlands. Just like his colleagues from the Haagse School, he was interested in the landscape that until then was considered too ordinary in our country: the polder land with windmills, marshy pastures with cows under heavy cloudy skies, heaths and rivers. First he went to Drenthe, later he searched for idyllic spots along the Gein, around the Nieuwkoopse Plassen and near Loosdrecht. He focused on capturing the mood and the light of the moment, which constantly changed on cloudy days. He carefully collected his impressions in sketches and oil paint studies on canvas, which he used to elaborate the painting in his studio. It is known that Roelofs made a lot of this. A good outdoor study, as Roelofs called it, had to hold 'the breath of nature' and served as a memory aid in making the painting. Often he also provided these oil paint studies with inscriptions indicating the place or month and sometimes a number that corresponded with other oil paint sketches from the same region. The appreciation of contemporaries for the immediacy of these landscapes is evident from the fact that they were regularly sold as independent works of art.
In the Netherlands, his innovations in the field of landscape art were not fully recognized until the 1970s, and he is called by his contemporaries the 'pioneer of modern Dutch painting'. Museums in Belgium and the Netherlands buy work from him in these years. In 1887 Roelofs finally returned to The Hague.