A Smith shoeing an Ox by Karel Du Jardin

A Smith Shoeing an Ox by Karel du Jardin (c.1650's)

Although I am not a great lover of London and would absolutely hate to live there as it so crowded.   I guess that is an age thing!   I know that when you are young you love the vibrancy of a city but as you get older you seek peace and tranquillity of the countryside or a small coastal town.   The one thing I do like about visiting London is the opportunity to visit great art galleries.  Currently, I am trying to wean myself off just visiting the National Gallery and getting completely lost time-wise in the vast and wondrous works on display.  I have now set myself a strategy for my London visits.  I will just set myself a time limit at the National Gallery and then just concentrate solely on an exhibition or a couple of rooms per visit and then go and seek out a smaller gallery and discover some other hidden gems.

With that in mind, yesterday, I went to the Jan Gossaert exhibition at the National Gallery and then went across the Thames and visited the Dulwich Picture Gallery.  This gem of a gallery was founded in 1811 through the bequest of Sir Peter Francis Bourgeois, a painter, art dealer and collector, who bequeathed no fewer than 360 paintings to the establishment.  Since 1994 when it finally ceased to be part of Dulwich College, it has been maintained as an Independent Charitable Trust and survives without any government funding.  A Heritage Lottery-funded refurbishment took place in 1999-2000 and this enabled the building to be brought back to its original splendour as well as breathing new life into the gardens and the much-needed 21st century facilities. This year is its 200th birthday.

The painting featured in My Daily Art Display today was one of the 360 bequeathed paintings of the 1811 Bourgeois Bequest.  It is entitled A Smith shoeing an Ox and was painted around the late 1650’s by the Dutch Italianate painter and etcher, Karel Du Jardin. He was a painter of religious and mythological scenes as well as landscapes but he was best known for his depiction of Italian peasants and shepherds with their animals.   He was born in 1626 in Amsterdam.  In his early twenties, he visited Paris and from there went to Lyon before ultimately heading for Italy.  It was during his journeys through Italy that he completed many sketches of the Italian countryside and its people.

Today’s painting has an Italianate setting with its humble subject matter and earthy shadowed foreground.  This was typical of the Bamboccianti genre painters, most of whom were Dutch and Flemish and who had brought with them to Italy the traditions of depicting peasant subjects from 16th century Netherlandish art.   

Look how the bold diagonal formed partly by the roof tiles and partly by the shadow divides sun from shade and how the tone and colour change between these two sectors.  One can look through the window of the building on the right to see the blacksmith’s furnace roaring away and the smith hard at work hammering away at some piece of metal.  Smoke from his furnace emanates from the brick chimney and rises vertically into the grey-blue cloudy sky.  The two small but sturdy-looking figures to the left we must presume are the children of the blacksmith busying themselves shoeing the ox.  Their clothes are ragged but well patched.   One of them is engaged in conversation with the cloaked gentleman, who could be the owner of the sturdy beast.    As we look at all the human figures in the painting we somewhat overlook the ox.  This magnificent creature is a typical Du Jardin-esque animal and takes centre stage in the scene.  It stands, with one of its hind legs raised, like a bulky ballerina at the barre.  It is a distinguished-looking beast displaying just a hint of concern at what it is has to endure.  Two cockerel perch on the old wooden cart observing proceedings, whilst another pair quench their thirst at the stone water trough.

It is a congenial and tranquil scene and there is a warmth to its depiction which reminds us that the warmer days of spring and summer beckon.  Maybe I need to look at this picture on a regular basis so as to rid myself of the memories of the past cold winter.