Adriaen van de Velde. Part 1 – Family and early influences.

I think I have already mentioned, on more than one occasion, that of all the different eras in art, my favourite is seventeenth century Dutch and Flemish art with some of my favourite artists, Jan Steen, Albert Cuyp, Jacob van Ruisdael and Paulus Potter all being born in the 1620’s.  Today, it gives me great pleasure in presenting another  talented painter of that time.   The artist I am featuring in this blog was once described as a wunderkind and the Mozart of the art world, for he, like the great composer, was a young genius.  Sadly, also like Mozart, he died young, at the age of thirty-five.  Today I am looking at the life and art of Adriaen van de Velde, whose landscapes are looked upon as being the very best that the Dutch Golden Age produced.  I also want to look at his family and other artists who influenced him.

The brothers van de Velde. Etching by Gerard Darbiche from painting by Ernest Meissonier
The brothers van de Velde.
Etching by Gerard Darbiche from painting by Ernest Meissonier

Adriaen van de Velde was born in Amsterdam in November 1636.  He came from an artistic family with both his father, Willem van de Velde the Elder, and Adriaen’s elder brother, Willem van de Velde the Younger, being marine painters.  Adriaen’s father’s interest in marine painting probably stemmed from the fact that his father, Adriaen’s Flemish-born grandfather, Willemsz van de Velde, was a bargemaster and merchant plying his trade in inland shipping.  His grandfather and his family were Calvinists and when Spain, which was staunch Catholic, took control of Flanders they were forced to move to the Protestant north, to Leiden sometime in the 1580’s.  Adriaen’s father, Willem van der Velde the Elder, was born in Leiden in 1611.  In 1631 he married Judith van Leeuwen and she went on to give him three children, Magdalena who was born in 1632, Willem in 1633 and finally Adriaen in 1636.

Battle of Dunkirk by Willem van de Velde the Elder (1639)
Battle of Dunkirk by Willem van de Velde the Elder (1639)

Willem van der Velde the Elder earliest drawings date back to the 1630’s and 1640’s and they would often feature individual ships of the Dutch fleet. His art also depicted many naval battles, which he had been commissioned to paint by the Dutch admiralty. One trip he made was in July 1653 was during the Battle of Scheveningen, which was the final naval battle of the First Anglo-Dutch War between the fleets of the Commonwealth of England and the United Provinces.  In 1658 Van de Velde accompanied the Dutch navy to Copenhagen when Admiral Jacob van Wassenaer defended the Danes’ right of way into the Baltic against Charles X’s Swedish forces; the drawings that Van de Velde produced of this battle earned him the praise of the Danish king.

Dutch Men of War at Anchor by Willem van de Velde the Elder
Dutch Men of War at Anchor by Willem van de Velde the Elder

His representation of major naval battles continued with the outbreak of the Second Anglo-Dutch War in 1665. One of his largest commissions, from Admiral Michiel de Ruyter, was to record the Four Days’ Battle in 1666.

The Battle Council on the De Zeven Provincien by Willem van de Velde the Elder (1666)
The Battle Council on the De Zeven Provincien by Willem van de Velde the Elder (1666)

The twenty-four drawings that survive represent moments from the battle itself as well as the individual vessels that gathered around De Ruyter’s flagship. De Ruyter employed the artist again during the Third Anglo-Dutch War, to record the Battle of Solebay on June 7, 1672.and sketch battle scenes first hand and then later, in the comfort of his studio, fashion very detailed pen paintings.  His expertise with pen paintings had him referred to as a ship draughtsman or artist and ship draughtsman rather than a painter.

Dutch Ferry Boat before a Breeze by Simon de Vlieger
Dutch Ferry Boat before a Breeze by Simon de Vlieger

Adriaen’s brother Willem, who was born in Leiden was interested in carrying on the marine painting tradition of his father and was trained by his father and later by Simon de Vlieger, a Dutch designer, draughtsman, and painter, who was most famous for his marine paintings.

Willem and his father remained in Amsterdam until 1672, the year Adriaen died, and then, as a consequence of the economic collapse brought about by the French invasion they were forced to move to England to seek out a living from their artworks.  Two years later, in 1674, he and his father entered the service of Charles II, and Willem the Younger had the use of a studio in the Queen’s House at Greenwich, before moving to Westminster in 1691.

Ships in a Gale by Willem van de Velde the Younger
Ships in a Gale by Willem van de Velde the Younger

Adriaen van de Velde, although initially taught by his father, wanted to paint something different and decided to concentrate on landscape art and some believe, for that reason, it was arranged that he went to study at the studio of Jan Jansz Wijnants.

Landscape with Two Hunters by Jan Wijnants
Landscape with Two Hunters by Jan Wijnants

Wijnants was an Italianate landscape painter who took his inspiration from the art of the Dutch painters who had travelled to Italy and consciously adopted the style of landscape painting that they found there.  They then incorporated Italian models and motifs into their own works.  However, this is disputed by many as Wijnants was only five years older than Adriaen and the two were unlikely to be master and pupil.  What is agreed is that the two collaborated on some works.

Cattle in a Meadow by Paulus Potter (1652) Oil on wood.
Cattle in a Meadow by Paulus Potter (1652)
Oil on wood.

One artist of that era who was a great influence on Adriaen was Paulus Potter who was eleven years his senior.  Paulus Potter was a Dutch painter who specialized in animals within landscapes, usually with a low vantage point.  He lived in Amsterdam from 1852 to 1854 which would be about the time when sixteen-year old Adriaen would be looking for a tutor and a studio to work in.  Many believe Potter could have taken Adriaen under his wing and tutored him.

Standing Bull by Adriaen van de Velde (c.1657)
Standing Bull by Adriaen van de Velde (c.1657)

Adriaen van de Velde besides being a talented landscape painter was also an accomplished draughtsman. He was actively involved in the practice of staffage.  So what is staffage?  Staffage is when an artist adds human or animal figures as subordinate elements to a landscape painting in order to give the painting a livelier appearance. Staffage was commonly used by 16th- and 17th-century landscape painters, who would often include religious and mythological scenes in their works. Staffage was frequently painted into a picture, not by the landscapist, but by another artist and this where Adriaen came into his element for he was extremely talented when it came to drawing animals and humans and added figures and animals into paintings by Meindert Hobbema, Jacob van Ruisdael, Willem Verboom and other contemporary artists.

Kneeling Female by Adriaen van de Velde
Kneeling Female by Adriaen van de Velde

Adriaen van de Velde was one of only a few seventeenth century landscape artists whose surviving graphic collection of works include figure studies. Many of his figure studies and sketches, which were later used in his paintings, still exist.  Adriaen completed many female nude studies and was always interested in posture and how it affected the female form.  A nude female sketch of his can be found in the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford entitled Kneeling Female Nude.

The Annunciation to the Virgin by Adriaen van de Velde (1667)
The Annunciation to the Virgin by Adriaen van de Velde (1667)

It is thought that this sketch could have been a preliminary sketch he used when painting The Annunciation to the Virgin which he completed in 1667 and which now hangs in the Rijksmuseum.

Vertumnus and Pomona by Adriaen van de Velde
Vertumnus and Pomona by Adriaen van de Velde

Adriaen completed a work which highlights his ability to depict the female form.  It is entitled Vertumnus and Pomona and was completed in 1670.  Vertumnus and Pomona is a story of seduction and deception from Ovid’s Metamorphoses, and the two featured in many 17th century Dutch paintings. Vertumnus, the Roman god of seasons and change, assumed multiple guises as he attempted to woo the recalcitrant wood nymph Pomona.

The Migration of Jacob by Adriaen van de Velde (1663)
The Migration of Jacob by Adriaen van de Velde (1663)

Besides his wonderful landscapes Adriaen completed many religious works and his “stand out” painting would probably be one he completed in 1663 entitled The Migration of Jacob.  The depiction is based on the story in the Old Testament (Genesis XXXI, 17-18):

“…Then Jacob put his children and his wives on camels, and he drove all his livestock ahead of him, along with all the goods he had accumulated in Paddan Aram to go to his father Isaac in the land of Canaan…”

Jacob left Paddan Aram in Northwest Mesopotamia, fleeing from his father -in-law, Laban whom he had worked for,  for more than twenty years. The bible story continued:

“…When Laban had gone to shear his sheep, Rachel stole her father’s household gods.  Moreover, Jacob deceived Laban the Aramean by not telling him he was running away. So he fled with all he had, crossed the Euphrates River, and headed for the hill country of Gilead…”

In the painting, we see a large procession meandering through the countryside.  It is headed by Jacob who with his wives, possessions and cattle are on a journey to reach his father, Isaac, who lived in Canaan.  Jacob, wearing the white turban sits astride the bay horse and we see him talking to his favourite wife, Rachel.  She is riding the white horse whilst she breast-feeds her child, Joseph.  The figures in the painting are in the shadows whilst the two main protagonists and those who are herding the sheep, are bathed in sunlight.  If one did not know the story one would believe it is a peaceful procession slowly crossing the landscape but Adriaen has add dark threatening clouds to give the idea that there is an urgency to this “convoy” and that not all is well.  Laban, after three days, realised that his daughter and son-in-law have left taking with them many of his possessions and gives chase.  What happened next ?   I will leave you to consult the Old Testament book of Genesis to find out !!

Agony in the Garden by Adriaen van de Velde
Agony in the Garden by Adriaen van de Velde

Another religious work by the artist was Agony in the Garden. This picture belongs to the principal group of large-scale religious works by him which he completed in the 1660s for the secret Catholic places of worship in and around Amsterdam. These commissions for religious works by the Catholic Church followed on from his marriage in 1657 to a Catholic lady, Maria Pietersz Ouderkerck, at which time he also converted to Catholicism.

In my next look at the works of Adriaen van de Velde I will be concentrating on what he was best known for  – his exquisite landscapes.

The Pastoral Scenes of Jan Siberechts

The Ford by Jan Sieberechts (1672) Szépmûvészeti Múzeum, Budapest
The Ford by Jan Sieberechts (1672)
Szépmûvészeti Múzeum, Budapest

My Daily Art Display today features the 17th century Flemish painter, Jan Siberechts.  I will also look at some of Siberechts works and look how his style of painting changed during his lifetime.  In today’s blog I will concentrate on his rural life paintings and in my next blog I will look at how his painting style changed when he went to England. 

Jan Siberechts was born into a family of artists in Antwerp in January 1627, first training with his father, who was a sculptor.  Little is known of his early life and upbringing except to say that in 1648, at the age of twenty-one, he became a master in the Guild of St Luke in Antwerp and four years later, in 1652, he married.   Siberechts’ early works, up until around 1660, were mainly landscapes which were heavily influenced by the Dutch Italianates.  The Dutch Italianates were a group of seventeenth-century Dutch artists who painted landscapes of Italy.  Many of these painters had travelled to and lived in Italy whilst others who had never made the journey to Italy were simply stimulated by the works of those who did.   Many young Dutch painters made the arduous journey, often by foot, over the Alps to Italy, whereas others travelled by sea. The favourite destination for these intrepid travellers was usually Rome, but some journeyed to Venice, and a few to Genoa. 

Many of these artists would make copious sketches during their sojourn in Italy and in the case of those who crossed the Alps on foot, they would pictorially record their arduous journey through the breathtaking mountain passes and then, once they arrived back home to their studios, they would produce this Italianate art.  Such works of art, which were extremely popular with the Dutch and were in great demand in what was then a booming Dutch art market. These Dutch Italianate painters enthused over the golden light of Mediterranean skies which they encountered in Italy.   The countryside around Rome (campagna) was a constant source of inspiration and featured in many of the works of the Dutch Italianates.   Some of the leading Dutch Italianate painters during the lifetime of Siberechts were artists, such as Nicolaes Berchem, Jan Both, Karel du Jardin, and Jan Weenix.  Because Siberechts’ early works reveal the influence of the Dutch Italianates some art historians believe that he may have made the journey to Italy but there is no firm proof of this assertion.   Many believe Siberechts remained in Antwerp until 1672 at which time he accepted an invitation to travel to England and so it could be that he was simply influenced by the finished works of the Dutch Italianate painters which were offered up for sale in Antwerp.  

Shepherdess by Jan Siberechts (1660's) Hermitage, Saint Petersburg, Russia
Shepherdess by Jan Siberechts (1660’s)
Hermitage, Saint Petersburg, Russia

Siberechts style changed around 1661 when he became interested in depicting scenes from the Flemish countryside and the rustic life of the peasants.  His initial landscape work with its occasional small figures changed and, in his work now, the figures in his landscape settings were larger and took on a paramount importance. 

Landscape with a Road, a Cart and Figures by Jan Siberechts Norfolk Museums & Archaeology Service (Norwich Castle Museum & Art Gallery)
Landscape with a Road, a Cart and Figures by Jan Siberechts
Norfolk Museums & Archaeology Service (Norwich Castle Museum & Art Gallery)

Often the countryside scenes depicted in these paintings incorporated country roads which had been partly flooded forming fords and peasant women going about their daily routine, carrying goods, such as hay or vegetables, to or from market, often by horse and cart.  In other paintings we see the women tending to their livestock along a river bank.  

The Wager by Jan Siberechts (1665) Koninklijk Museum voor Schone Kunsten, Antwerp
The Wager by Jan Siberechts (1665)
Koninklijk Museum voor Schone Kunsten, Antwerp

In Siberechts’ countryside depictions his female figures were much larger than corresponding figures in most paintings of this genre. The female figures we see in Siberechts’ paintings are not willowy, weak women but strong robust females who were quite able to hold their own against their men-folk when it came to working on the farm.  The presence of water in Siberechts’ scenes gave him the chance to show off his artistic ability of depicting reflections on the water surface and the glittering of the light on moving water.  The inclusion of water into his peasant scenes also gave Siberechts an excuse for showing us a sensual glimpse of bare female thighs as they washed and cooled down their bare legs in the fords or streams.  The colours Siberechts used in these landscape works were often quite similar.  He would utilise whites, reds and yellows for the clothes of the women and these colours would contrast against the various greens he used to depict surrounding plants and vegetation.  Often there would be no background as such to these paintings as the dense foliage in the middle ground obscured our view of any background. 

I like these works.  There is a certain quaintness about them.  As you will see in my next blog the paintings Siberecht did whilst in England couldnt be more different.

Road by the Edge of a Lake by Jan Both

Road by the Edge of a Lake by Jan Both (1637-41)

Today I am looking at a landscape painting by the Dutch painter and etcher Jan Dirksz Both.  The artist was born in Utrecht around 1618, the younger brother of Andries Both, who was one of a group of genre painters who worked in Rome in the 17th century and who brought to the Italians the sixteenth century Netherlandish art which depicted peasant subjects.  They were known as the bamboccianti.  The term came from the nickname Il Bamboccio, which translated means “ugly doll” or “ugly puppet”, and was a nickname given to the Dutch painter and leader of the group, Pieter van Laer, because of his physical deformity, as well as the puppet-like figures in his paintings.

It was whilst the two Both brothers were working in Rome that Jan Both met the French landscape artist Claude Lorrain and a fellow Dutch painter Herman van Swanevelt, and it was with these two painters that he collaborated on a series of landscape works.   It was from Claude that he acquired the skill of rendering effects of golden or silvery light and this technique was hugely influential after he returned to Holland in 1642.  Originally Jan Both produced the popular genre paintings and scenes from the everyday life of the streets of Rome but on his return to Utrecht he concentrated all his artistic efforts on Italianate landscape paintings, which were characterised by the golden glow of sunlight.  His brother Andries, on the other hand, preferred the genre painting in the manner of Pieter van Leer.   Like Jan and Andries Both, throughout the 17th century, a steady stream of Dutch painters made the long and demanding trek to Italy, which was, at that time, acknowledged as the home of art.  Aspiring artists from many European countries would descend on Rome in order to study the great masters of the Renaissance and the contemporary painters of the Baroque.  The Dutch who had come from a colder harsher climate with its gloomy and overcast skies were thrilled by the beauty of a sunny Italy.  They marveled at the light, and the myriad of colours offered by the Italian landscapes.   The Dutch artists depicted these wonderful Roman Campagna landscapes in their paintings along with the ruins of earlier civilizations which were dotted throughout the countryside.  This group of 17th century Netherlandish painters were known as the Dutch Italianates.

Jan returned to Utrecht around 1641.  He became the main pioneer of Italianate landscape painting in 17th-century Holland.   He introduced to Dutch landscape paintings a style based on the work of Claude Lorrain, which he had witnessed in Rome. Later this Italianate landscape style of his was developed by other artists such as Nicolaes Berchem and Aelbert Cuyp.  This Italianate style of landscape painting when transferred to the native Dutch landscapes was very popular and much in demand in Holland.  His landscape paintings became more refined over the years and he would often produce large works of idealised landscapes drenched in the golden light of the Mediterranean.

The painting of Jan Both, which I am featuring today, is entitled Road by the Edge of a Lake which he completed between 1637 and 1641 dating back to his Italian sojourn.  It currently hangs in the Dulwich Gallery, London.  The earth has a subtle red tinge to it which mirrors that found in Italy.  There is a tranquillity about this painting as we see the herdsman slowly weaving their way home towards the golden sunset.  The slanting light from the falling sun produces long shadows even from the smallest of molehills we see on the herdsmen’s trail.  This painting incorporates a typical golden sunset, which Jan Both probably learnt from Claude Lorrain when he was in Italy.  Look at the tones and colours of his sky.  Look how the artist has depicted the background, with its bright yellows and yet it also has a misty quality about it, which is what we would experience if we looked towards the setting sun on a clear day.  Move your eyes to the background on the right and the colour changes to a bluer tone and the mistiness gradually disappears.  The way the artist has depicted the background is a seamless continuity of the bright but misty yellowish haze to the clarity of blue sky.  I also like the way the artist has captured the way the sunlight falls on the leaves of the trees and even the individual blades of grass which borders on to the path to the left of the herdsman.

It is interesting to note that some art historians believe that Jan’s brother Andries may have had a hand in this painting.  They come to this conclusion when they studied the figures of the herdsme.  These reminded them of the figures seen in many of Pieter van Laer’s paintings and as I told you earlier, Andries Both was a dedicated follower on Il Bamboccio.

It is a magical painting and one can almost feel the warmth from the setting sun.  It is no wonder the Dutch liked to hang this type of painting on the walls of their houses as they sat inside by their fires and shivered with the cold of a Dutch winter’s day.

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.

River Landscape with Horseman and Peasants by Aelbert Cuyp

River Landscape with Horseman and Peasants by Aelbert Cuypt (Late 1650's)

 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 ?

The Maas at Dordrecht by Aelbert Cuyp

The Maas at Dordrecht by Aelbert Cuyp (1650)

I have been fortunate that wherever I have lived has been close to either the sea or a river and I have always been fascinated by the ships and boats that move on these waters.  I have spent many a memorable holiday staying in accommodation on both the Rhine and the Mosel Rivers and spent many happy hours relaxing, watching the laden barges as they travelled slowly up and down the busy waterways.  So today I decided to offer you a riverscape painting which encompasses all that I love about water and on which the barges that ply their trade,

My Daily Art Display artist today is the Dutch painter Aelbert Cuyp who was born in the Dutch town of Dordrecht which is on an island bordered by a number of rivers, one of which is the Oude Maas, an off-shoot of the Rhine.  Aelbert Cuyp was born in 1620 and came from a large family of painters but was by far the most famous.  He was the son of the portraitist Jacob Gerritsz Cuyp, who looked after his early training. He, in turn, assisted his father by supplying landscape backgrounds for his father’s portrait commissions.  Aelbert soon tired of portraiture and concentrated on landscapes and riverscapes.  He was a religious man and had an active involvement in the Dutch Reformed Church.

From his paintings of landscapes and townscapes it is apparent that at some time in his twenties he had travelled extensively within the Netherlands and along the upper Rhine in Germany.  Because of the Italianate lighting effects seen in his later works, it is thought he may have spent time in Italy and also mixed with other Dutch Italianate landscape painters.

In 1658, at the age of thirty eight, he married Cornelia Bosman, the wealthy widow of Johan van de Corput, a naval officer and member of a very wealthy Dordrecht family.  After his marriage Aelbert appeared to have spent less time painting and more time involved with church activities.  His new found wealth meant that he did not have to earn a living by selling his paintings.

Aelbert Cuyp died in Rotterdam in 1691, aged seventy one.

Today’s painting is entitled The Maas at Dordrecht which Cuyp painted in 1650 and is housed in the National Gallery of Art in Washington.   In this picture it is not the town of Dordrecht which has centre stage but the River Maas itself and the craft on it which are plying their trade on its waters.  This vast, sunny composition specifically accents one figure.   In the foreground we see a small boat which has come alongside a sailing barge.  In the boat we can see a dignitary dressed in a black jacket with an orange sash.  He could be the festival’s master of ceremonies and could also be the patron who commissioned Cuyp to document the historic event.  He is greeted by a distinguished looking gentleman who stands among numerous other figures, including a man beating a drum. On the left a second rowboat approaches, carrying other dignitaries and a trumpeter who signals their impending arrival. Most of the ships of the large fleet anchored near the city have their sails raised and flags flying as though they are about to embark on a voyage. The early morning light, which floods the tower of the great church and creates striking patterns on the clouds and sails, adds to the dramatic character of the scene.

It is almost certain that Cuyp was commissioned to mark this event in a painting.  The event, a two-week festival, is believed to have happened in 1646 when an enormous fleet of ships carrying thirty thousand soldiers was anchored off Dordrecht.  Crowds jam the docks, bugles and drums sound fanfares and cannons fire salutes.  One can see that the sunlight in the painting rakes across the panel and by doing so accentuates small bits of detail in the golden light.

Italian Landscape with bridge by Herman van Swanevelt

Italian Landscape with bridge by Herman van Swanevelt (c.1645-50)

The other day I came across a beautiful landscape painting by an artist that was unknown to me.  His name was Herman van Swanevelt and the painting was entitled Italian Landscape with bridge which he painted circa 1645-50 and which hangs in the Dulwich Picture Gallery in London.

The artist was born in Woerden which was one of the smaller towns of the province of Holland in the newly independent Dutch Republic.  His early history is somewhat sketchy other than knowing he came from a family of craftspeople and some way back in his lineage was the celebrated artist Lucas van Leyden.  As there were no well known artists identified as having lived in Woerden at that time it is just conjecture as to how van Swanevelt learnt his artistic trade.  Some art historians believed he spent time in Rotterdam under the tutelage of Willem Buytewech the Dutch painter, draughtsman and etcher, who was considered to be the “inventor” of Dutch genre painting.

Herman van Swanevelt was recorded as having been in Paris in 1623 and later lived in Rome between 1629 and 1641.  It was during his time in Italy that Herman concentrated his works of art on the first generation of the Dutch Italianates and the whole Italianate landscape genre with his paintings focusing on beautiful landscapes sparkling in sunny conditions and a classic example of this is in My Art Display’s painting.  His paintings of  sumptuous Italian landscapes and the views of Roman ruins soon gained favour with the wealthy art collectors of Rome and the Vatican.  One of his large scale paintings was commissioned by King Philip IV which he installed in Buen Retiro, his country palace near Madrid.

In 1642 van Swanevelt  returned to Paris, where he became a member of the Académie Royale de Peinture et de Sculpture in 1651    His landscape works now began to take on a more Northern appearance and to his pleasure found that French art collectors were equally impressed with his works of art and were only too keen to purchase all that he could produce.  For his artistic work he received the prestigious appointment of “peintre ordinaire du roi”.   In the later years of his life van Swanevelt returned occasionally to his home town of Woerden as can be seen by the name of the town being added to his signature on some of his paintings he completed in the 1640’s.

His popularity as a Dutch painter continued unabated and as a genre, Dutch Italianate landscape paintings were highly prized in the northern Netherlands during the 17th and 18th centuries. In the 17th century they fetched higher prices than native Dutch landscapes paintings.  Then, at the end of the nineteenth century Dutch Italianate landscape paintings in general suddenly fell out of favour.  The reason for this fall from grace of van Swanevelt’s  paintings was that many prominent art critics of the time believed that he and other Dutch 17th century Italianate landscape painters had been unpatriotic in the way they had chosen Italian landscapes as the subject for their paintings.  The art critics of the time also believed that the settings seen in their landscapes lacked a sense of realism and as such their landscape paintings were of a hybrid style that was neither Dutch nor Italian.  Such harsh criticism from the art critics caused art galleries, which had once scrambled to be the first to hang their paintings,  now took them down from their walls and caste them to their basement storerooms.

Have a look at today’s painting and decide whether you like the sunny pituresque nature of the subject or would you prefer a touch more realism.