My Daily Art Display today is a return to landscape painting and a revisiting of the Dutch artist Aelbert Cuyp. The last time I offered you a painting by this great artist was over a month ago (February 8th) when I talked about a seascape of his. Today I want to look at one of his many landscapes entitled River Landscape with Horseman and Peasants, which he completed in the late 1650’s and can now be found in the National Gallery, London.
This talented Dutch Italianate painter was born in 1620 in Dordrecht, a city in the Netherlands. He is one of the country’s most important landscape painters of 17th century. This was the time of the Dutch Golden Age – a time when the local trade, science and art were recognized throughout the world. Looking at a number of Cuyp’s landscape paintings, it is thought he may have spent time in Italy or he may simply have mixed with other Dutch Italianate landscape painters who had made the artistic pilgrimage. Throughout the 17th century a steady flow of Dutch painters made the difficult and strenuous journey to Italy, which was recognized as the “home of art.” Here artists of other nationalities studied the great masters of the Renaissance and the contemporary painters of the Baroque genre. The Dutch at this time were enchanted with Italy and landscapes of the Italian countryside. They loved everything about the country.
Cuyp painted still lives, animals, portraits, and landscapes and worked in two distinct styles. In his early twenties he came under the influence of other artists and he tended to paint naturalistic, diagonal compositions that show a good sense of space and an almost monochromatic yellowish-gray colour. It wasn’t until he was in his thirties and forties that he exhibited a more individualistic style. This was considered his best period. Cuyp’s paintings are sunny and lively in atmosphere, profound in tonalities, simple in outline, well-balanced in composition, and notable for the large, rich foreground masses. His palette tends largely to yellow, pinkish red, warm browns, and olive green rather than blue and silver grey.
Today’s painting by Cuyp is looked upon as one of the greatest 17th century Dutch landscape paintings. It is also believed to be the largest surviving landscapes of the Dordrecht artist and I believe one of his most beautiful. This river landscape with its distant mountain and town across the river is not topographically accurate. It is not a painting of an actual location but a work of art which encompasses an evocation of an idyllic pastoral land bathed in sunlight, populated by a hunter, an elegant rider and some peasants tending the sheep and cattle.
The elegantly dressed horseman surveys his animals and the peasants who are in charge of herding them. This harks back to the feudal past and it is probable that the painting was for some rich landowner or member of the nobility who liked to be reminded of those “happy” days. It is a very serene setting. However, in the foreground to the left we spot a huntsman crouched down behind the reeds taking aim at the ducks, which are on the water, unaware of their coming fate. Very soon the tranquility of the scene will be shattered by the deafening sound of gun fire.
Look how the riverbank is suffused in soft sunlight. It lights up the animals and people as well as the fauna. The cows cool themselves by resting quietly under the shadow of the trees. The characteristic of this light is symptomatic of the Dutch Italianate artist’s approach to landscape painting where the artist turned to the Italian campagna for their subject matter with their glorious tonal control, mastery of colour and magical handling of light. These Dutch Italianate artists would trek across the mountains to Italy and spend many days sketching the sun drenched Italian landscapes which were so different to the flat openness of their homeland with its often cloudy skies. Cuyp’s landscape is truly remarkable. It was painted at a time when the taste of wealthy Dutch patrons combined with the artist’s imagination and the influence of Italy and the important cultural elements of the Netherlands came together. This actual painting was acquired by the Earl of Bute in the mid 18th century and it lead to other British collectors wanting to get hold of the artist’s work.
Is this not the type of spring day we dream of after coming through the cold of a prolonged winter? Could you not lie back on the river bank and let the sun gently kiss your skin. Can you see why the Dutch wanted to buy this little piece of heaven ?