Dordrecht, situated at the confluence of the Maas and the Merwede rivers, serves as a backdrop to this historical scene on the water. In July 1646, a large Dutch transport fleet carrying thirty thousand soldiers and their equipment gathered at Dordrecht in a show of force by the rebel northern provinces—fighting for independence from the Spanish crown—at the onset of the negotiations that would eventually result in the Peace of Münster in 1648. The lasting appeal of Cuyp’s masterful depiction derives from the extraordinary light effects that bring an early summer morning to life and from the dramatic sweep of clouds that enhances the massive scale of the painting.
Spectators jam the quays, bugles and drums sound fanfares, and a shipboard cannon fires a salute. The young officer standing in the small boat wearing a white-and-red sash—the colors of Dordrecht—is likely the person who commissioned Cuyp to paint this historic event. The officer and his brightly clad companion are greeted by a distinguished-looking gentleman and numerous other figures, including a drummer, on the larger vessel. Attempts to identify the blue-and-white flag on the stern of this ship have thus far been unsuccessful. A second rowboat, carrying other dignitaries and a trumpeter who signals their arrival, approaches from the left. Most of the ships have their sails raised as though they are about to depart, and fluttering flags suggest the presence of a nice breeze, yet the overall sense of the scene is one of great calm.
In the mid-1830s, Gustav Waagen, director of the Royal Gallery at Berlin, made an extensive tour of British private collections, which, following the upheavals surrounding the French Revolution, had become one of the greatest storehouses of Old Master paintings in the world. Cordially greeted everywhere because of his charm and expertise, Waagen had the rare privilege of experiencing firsthand many of the great examples of European painting that were not otherwise accessible to the public. With this knowledge in mind, Waagen took careful notes and in 1838 published an account of the works of art he had seen in English private collections.
He published a revised and better-known edition, Treasures of Art in Great Britain, in three volumes from 1854 to 1857. Aelbert Cuyp’s The Maas at Dordrecht, in the collection of Sir Abraham Hume, was one of the outstanding masterpieces and Waagen described it as follows:
The chief picture, however, of the whole collection is a view of the Maas, with the town of Dort, and numerous ships, by this master, in a moderately warm but extremely clear evening light. The delicacy of aerial gradation in a series of vessels seen one behind the other is not to be described, and, at the same time, all is executed with the greatest ease and freedom. This picture, 3 ft. 10 in. high, by 5 ft. 6 1/2 in. wide, is a proof not only of the extraordinary talent of this master, but also of the astonishing height which the art of painting in general had attained in Holland in the seventeenth century.
Gustav Friedrich Waagen, Treasures of Art in Great Britain, 3 vols. (London 1854–1857), 2:316.
Waagen’s enthusiastic response to The Maas at Dordrecht was widely shared, and the painting was featured in a number of exhibitions of Dutch painting from the time it was first brought to England around 1804.
In addition to its popularity in exhibitions, a number of copies of the work were executed. They include a signed copy by Jacob van Strij (1756–1815), oil on wood, 59 x 74 cm, with Rob Kattenburg, Aerdenhout, in 1983; a copy formerly in the collection of Matthew Anderson, exhibited in Leeds in 1868, no. 898; and a copy formerly owned by Guy Sebright, oil on canvas, 109 x 165 cm, exhibited at the Royal Academy in London in 1907, no. 57.
Waagen mistakenly believed that the scene was illuminated by a setting sun.
Cuyp spent his entire artistic career in Dordrecht, a wealthy urban center proud of its heritage as the oldest city in Holland and blessed with an extremely favorable geographic location in the estuary of the Maas and the Rhine rivers. Dordrecht was an important mercantile center, from which ships could easily sail to Rotterdam, Antwerp, the North Sea, or inland to Arnhem, Nijmegen, and beyond. While its well-protected harbor was lined with stately homes, its distinctive skyline was best viewed from the water, either from the Oude Maas to the west or from the Merwede to the north. From these vantage points one could admire the elegant spire of the Groothoofdspoort, the city’s major gate at the water side, and the massive Grote Kerk, the city’s symbolic center of power.
The formidable presence of the Dutch Reformed Church in Dordrecht was instrumental in its being chosen for the site of the important 1618–1619 Synod of Dordrecht. The synod codified Reformed Church worship and launched the translation of the Bible into Dutch. The Statenbijbel was published in 1637. The Synod of Dordrecht was also historically important for siding with the Counter-Remonstrants, who preached predestination, rather than with the Remonstrants, who believed in free will as a means to achieve grace.
Cuyp has portrayed Dordrecht from the northeast, bathed in morning light. From this vantage point, either from a boat anchored in the Merwede or—more probable—from the village of Papendrecht on the far bank of this broad and busy river, an impressive panorama of the city stretches out before the viewer, encompassing not only the Groothoofdspoort and the Grote Kerk, with its massive yet unfinished tower, but also the broad expanse of the Maas as it flows past Dordrecht. Cuyp based this view on a panoramic drawing he made in the late 1640s
This drawing was made after 1647, when modifications were made to buildings along the water’s edge. Earlier drawings of the same site are in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, and in the De Boer collection, Amsterdam. See Wouter Kloek in Aelbert Cuyp (Washington, DC, 2001), nos. 82–84. Cuyp used the Rijksmuseum drawing as the basis for two other paintings of Dordrecht from the mid-1650s in Kenwood and Ascott. See A. Rüger in Arthur K. Wheelock Jr., Aelbert Cuyp (Washington, DC, 2001), nos. 35–36.
Waagen seems not to have been particularly curious about the event being depicted, but others have been. In 1827 John Burnet identified the scene as “The Embarkation of the Prince of Orange.”
John Burnet, A Treatise on Painting: In Four Parts, 4 vols. (London, 1832), 15.
Gerard Hoet, Catalogus of Naamlyst van Schilderijen, 2 vols. (The Hague, 1752), 2:490. Van Slingeland’s inventory describes two paintings as: “Two pieces, being the view of the City of Dordrecht to the Huys Merwede with many yachts and ships, being a rendezvous there [of] Prince Maurits of Orange in a ‘Chaloup’ with several other Princes from the city brought over to the yacht across from this ‘Chaloup’ is another in which Oldenbarnevelt stands looking down on Prince Maurits, from life, by Aelbert Cuyp. each h. 43 d. w. 64 1/2 d.” (“Twee stukken, zynde het Gezigt van de Stad Dordrecht tot het huys Merwerde met veele Jachten en Scheepen, zynde een Rendevous daar Prins Maurits van Orange in een Chaloup met eenige andere Prince van de Stad na het jagt wert gevoert tegens over welke Chaloup een andere is waarinne Oldenbarnevelt overend staande op Prince Maurits siet, na het Leven, door Albert Kuyp. ieder h. 43 d. br. 64 en een half d.”) The description and dimensions seem to identify these paintings as Cuyp’s View on the Maas near Dordrecht at Waddesdon Manor and the Gallery’s The Maas at Dordrecht. As Oldenbarnevelt was executed in 1619 and Prince Maurits had died in 1625, these identifications were clearly fanciful.
Another interpretation of the scene was proposed in 1929, when the painting was exhibited at the Royal Academy, London. “The event represented is probably Charles II in the Dordrecht roads, May 26th, 1660, during his journey from Breda, where he had lived sometime, to The Hague and thence to England.”
Exhibition of Dutch Art, 1450–1900 (London, 1929), 29.
See, for example, Bernard Berenson and Wilhelm R. Valentiner, Duveen Pictures in Public Collections in America (New York, 1941), no. 209.
Even though the specifics of Cuyp’s artistic evolution are difficult to ascertain due to the absence of dated works, stylistic considerations make it highly unlikely that he has represented Charles’ visit. Cuyp’s paintings from the 1660s are not executed with the same emphasis on the weight and density of materials and with such concern for the characteristics of texture that one sees here. These qualities, which are reinforced here through the application of quite thick impastos, are far more characteristic of works from the late 1640s and early 1650s. Further indicating a date from this period is the style of the costumes, which is comparable to that seen in paintings from the late 1640s.
See, for example, Govert Flinck’s The Amsterdam Civic Guard Celebrating the Signing of the Peace of Münster, 1648, Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam, inv. no. C.I. See Joachim Wolfgang von Moltke, Govaert Flinck, 1615–1660 (Amsterdam, 1965), pl. 53.
The event depicted in this painting appears to involve no royalty and probably for that reason has never been properly identified. Margarita Russell, however, has persuasively proposed that the scene depicts the assembling of the Dutch fleet at Dordrecht in July 1646.
Margarita Russell, “Aelbert Cuyp, The Maas at Dordrecht: The Great Assembly of the Dutch Armed Forces, June–July 1646,” Dutch Crossing 40 (1990): 31–82. Russell's article is the outgrowth of research she undertook at the National Gallery of Art in 1981 and 1982. It also incorporates a number of observations provided by Commodore C. J. W. van Waning, who undertook an in-depth study of the painting in the fall of 1982. The text of his research, as well as navigational charts he provided, are in National Gallery of Art curatorial files.
Mathys Balen, Beschrijvinge der Stad Dordrecht (Dordrecht, 1677), 880–881.
Balen’s description of the ships and their locations is extremely precise. The ships were anchored in the tidal current of the Merwede rather than moored alongside the piers. As is clear from his account, the “fleet” was a disparate group of ships, consisting of warships and also a wide variety of utilitarian and transport boats. Among them were the kitchen boats (keuken) used as ancillary “kitchens” and providing sleeping accommodations for the private servants and staff of the princely household; sailing vessels called uytlegers that were used for guard and pilot duties in the approaches to the entrances of the internal waterways; and pleyten, single-masted, wide-bodied ships that commonly served as ferryboats. Balen concludes his account by noting that the entire fleet set sail on July 12, some for Bergen op Zoom, and others for Sas van Gent. Prince Frederik Hendrik’s intent was almost certainly one last show of force against the southern Netherlands at the onset of negotiations for the truce, which would ultimately be signed at Münster in 1648. Nothing ever came of the plan, however, and so this event of such significance in the history of Dordrecht was of no consequence in the broader course of Dutch political history.
According to Professor Paul Hofsyzer (letter, August 6, 1986, in National Gallery of Art curatorial files), the intent of the expedition was to lay siege to Antwerp. Antwerp, however, was heavily defended, and the campaign became bogged down by autumn.
Balen’s description of the locations of the ships carrying the various regiments can be applied to the situation depicted in Cuyp’s painting. In the foreground left, a warship flying the Dutch tricolored flag seems under sail in midstream. The large massing of ships beyond it may be those containing the Frisian and English troops that Balen describes as being anchored near the Groothoofdspoort. Beyond these ships, to the right of the Groote Kerk, a large yacht fires a gun salute. This ship, which displays the Orange coat of arms, must be that of the lifeguards (Lijf-Schut-Bende) of Prince Frederik Hendrik that Balen indicates was anchored near the Blaupoort.
The focal point of Cuyp’s composition is not, however, an elaborate warship but the relatively simple pleyt in the right foreground. He painted it with great care. The ship is at anchor, with her bow in an easterly direction, not to the wind, but with the tidal current to the bow. It seems to be slack tide, about high water on the Maas, for the anchor cable hangs loosely and no one is busy with the halyards. The large and wide jib is lowered and the spritsail is in a half-lowered position. As is characteristic of these ships, the wooden hull is broader along the waterline than at the deck level. This profile kept the ship high in the water and allowed it to sail along the shallow inland waterways. One of the sideboards used to stabilize the craft when it was under sail is seen drawn up midway along its side.
Standing in the pleyt awaiting the arrival of the dignitaries in the rowboats is a portly officer who wears an orange sash under his brown cloak. Unfortunately, his identity is unknown, but the distinctive flags on the ship—that hanging from the stern with blue-white-blue bars and the smaller orange flag atop the mast—may yet provide a clue, although they are, as of yet, unidentified.
All efforts to identify these flags have been unsuccessful, despite the kind assistance of T. N. Schelhaas, director of the Centraal Bureau voor Genealogie, The Hague (letter, March 5, 1982, in National Gallery of Art curatorial files); H. C. ’t Jong, archivist at the Gemeentelijke Archiefdienst, Dordrecht (letter, March 10, 1982, in National Gallery of Art curatorial files); and more recently E. J. Wolleswinkel, of the Hoge Raad van Adel, The Hague (e-mail letter October 26, 2009). One possibility is that the flags are related to Colonel Varik, the only officer mentioned by Balen. Although the exact identity of Colonel Varik is not known, one form of the Varik family crest was a diagonal cross (color unknown) that is not unrelated in shape to the flag at the stern of the pleyt. See Jacobus Anspach, De navorscher, een middle tot gedachtenwisseling en letterkundig verkeer (Nimegen, 1892), 68–69, 149. Commodore Van Waning (see note 11 above) believed that the small orange flag represented a “banner or regimental colour with its finely carved top and wooden bar along the topside of the flag.” He believed that the flag may well represent the “regimental colors of Colonel Varik.” Mr. Schelhaas, however, believes that the flag depicts a fleur-de-lis and thus may relate to the coat of arms of the Van Beveren family. Finally, Mr. H. C. ’t Jong has suggested that the flag depicts a tower or castle on a red field, which would associate the ship with Middelburg.
The probability is strong that these figures are representatives of Dordrecht because the standing young officer in the rowboat near the pleyt wears a red-and-white sash, the city’s colors. Even though he is given particular prominence in the painting, it seems unlikely that he was the most important emissary. His rowboat is quite undistinguished, particularly in comparison with the other transport boat, at far left, carrying three officials and the bugler. The burgomaster of Dordrecht at that time was Cornelis van Beveren, a distinguished patriarch, who was also the head of a family who were frequent patrons of Aelbert Cuyp. Van Beveren is certainly not the relatively youthful officer standing in the small rowboat, for in 1646 he was fifty-six years old. Van Beveren served with three other officers on the city’s Gecommitterde ten Belevde van Stad (administrative council): Jacob de Witt, Johann Dionijsz, and Cornelius van Someren. The standing figure is probably not one of these men either; aside from the fact that he is so young, it is unlikely that any one of the three council members would have been distinguished above the others.
The identity of the figure who is so clearly silhouetted against the shimmering water is of some interest because he may well have been the person who commissioned this large, complex painting. One possibility is that he was Matthijs Pompe, Vry-Heer van Slingeland, who in 1646 was twenty-five years old and already held the public office of shepen (bailiff, magistrate). It seems quite probable that given his official position and family connections, he could have been granted the honor of being the emissary sent by the city to present the burgomaster and other high-ranking city officials to an officer of the fleet as it was about to set sail. Pompe was married to a daughter of Cornelis van Beveren and was also the brother of Michiel Pompe van Meerdervoort, an important patron of Cuyp.
Stephen Reiss, Aelbert Cuyp (Boston, 1975), no. 119 (Cornelis Hofstede de Groot, Beschreibendes und kritisches Verzeichnis der Werke der hervorragendsten holländischen Maler des XVII. Jahrhunderts, 10 vols. [Esslingen and Paris, 1907–1928], 2: no. 168); no. 121 (Hofstede de Groot, Beschreibendes und kritisches Verzeichnis, 2: nos. 85 and 617); and no. 128 (Hofstede de Groot, Beschreibendes und kritisches Verzeichnis, 2: nos. 173 and 174).
The Washington painting, however, should also be considered in relation to a painting at Waddesdon Manor, which may well have been executed as a companion piece
Stephen Reiss, Aelbert Cuyp (Boston, 1975), no. 106 (Cornelis Hofstede de Groot, Beschreibendes und kritisches Verzeichnis der Werke der hervorragendsten holländischen Maler des XVII. Jahrhunderts, 10 vols. [Esslingen and Paris, 1907–1928], 2: no. 36).
F. J. G. ter Raa, Het Staatsche Leger, 1568–1793, 8 vols. (Breda, 1918), 4:151.
While these paintings were almost surely commissioned works related to a specific event associated with Dordrecht, Cuyp’s masterful creations stemmed from a long-abiding interest in depicting scenes along the Maas and the Merwede rivers surrounding Dordrecht. In his Fishing Boat at Anchor, c. 1644, in the Getty Museum, for example, he depicts a panoramic, light-filled river view that focuses on a sailing boat with its jib lowered, very similar in character to the pleyt in the Washington painting.
Stephen Reiss, Aelbert Cuyp (Boston, 1975), no. 31 (Cornelis Hofstede de Groot, Beschreibendes und kritisches Verzeichnis der Werke der hervorragendsten holländischen Maler des XVII. Jahrhunderts, 10 [Esslingen and Paris, 1907–1928], 2:648, 649).
Stephen Reiss, Aelbert Cuyp (Boston, 1975), no. 93 (Cornelis Hofstede de Groot, Beschreibendes und kritisches Verzeichnis der Werke der hervorragendsten holländischen Maler des XVII. Jahrhunderts, 10 vols. [Esslingen and Paris, 1907–1928], 2:34, 1676). (Reiss dates this work c. 1647.) The attribution of this work, however, has been called into question by John Ingamells and Alan Chong in The Wallace Collection: Catalogue of Pictures, 4 vols. (London, 1992), 4:78, no. P138, who call it a later work in the “Manner of Cuyp.”
While the compositional motif of a ferryboat transferring passengers to small rowboats most likely derives from the example of
Arthur K. Wheelock Jr.
April 24, 2014
on sideboard of ship in right foreground: A.cuyp
Johan van der Linden van Slingeland [1701-1782], Dordrecht, by 1752. (his estate sale, at his residence by J. Yver and A. Delfos, Dordrecht, 22 August 1785 and days following, no. 70); "Rens" or "Delfos." (Alexis Delahante, London), c. 1804 to 1814; sold to Abraham Hume, Bart. [1749-1838], Wormley, Hertfordshire, by 1815; by inheritance to his grandson, John Hume Cust, Viscount Alford, M. P. [1812-1851], Ashridge Park, Hertfordshire; by inheritance to his son, John William Spencer, 2nd earl Brownlow [1842-1867], Ashridge Park; by inheritance to his brother, Adelbert Wellington, 3rd earl Brownlow [1844-1921], Ashridge Park and London; (his estate sale, Christie, Manson & Woods London, 4 and 7 May 1923, no. 75); (Duveen Brothers, Inc., London, New York, and Paris); by exchange 1940 to The A.W. Mellon Educational and Charitable Trust, Pittsburgh; gift 1940 to NGA.
- British Institution for Promoting the Fine Arts in the United Kingdom, London, 1815, no. 67.
- British Institution for Promoting the Fine Arts in the United Kingdom,London, 1838, no. 37.
- British Institution for Promoting the Fine Arts in the United Kingdom, London, 1867, no. 21.
- Nottingham Castle, 1878, no. 78.
- Loan Collection of Pictures, The Corporation Art Gallery (Guildhall), London, 1892, no. 85.
- Loan Exhibition of Dutch Paintings of the Seventeenth Century, Detroit Institute of Arts, 1925, no. 3.
- Inaugural Exhibition, The Art Gallery of Toronto, 1926, no. 143.
- Exhibition of Art Treasures, The Grafton Galleries, London, 1928, no. 1424.
- Exhibition of Dutch Art 1450-1900, Royal Academy of Arts, London, 1929, no. 267.
- Cinq Siècles d'Art, Exposition universelle et internationale, Brussels, 1935, no. 714.
- Tentoonstelling van Oude Kunst, Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam, 1936, no. 37.
- Loan Exhibition of Dutch Landscape Paintings. 20th Loan Exhibition of Old Masters, Detroit Institute of Arts, 1939, no. 7.
- Rétrospective d'art, Exposition internationale, Liège, 1939, no. 54.
- Great Dutch Paintings from America, Mauritshuis, The Hague; The Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, M. H. de Young Memorial Museum, 1990-1991, no. 17, color repro., as Ships on the Maas River at Dordrecht.
- Aelbert Cuyp, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.; The National Gallery, London; Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam, 2001-2002, no. 28, repro.
- Pride of Place: Dutch Cityscapes of the Golden Age, Royal Picture House Mauritshuis, The Hague; National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., 2008-2009, no. 15, repro.
Exhibition History Notes
 As Alan Chong has kindly noted, an 1824 index of the British Institution exhibitions mistakenly dates this exhibition to 1813.
 Cited in Hans Schneider, "Aelbert Cuyp: The Maas near Dordrecht," in Unknown Masterpieces in Public and Private Collections, ed. Wilhelm R. Valentiner, London, 1930: no. 57. An undated Nottingham Castle label was formerly affixed to the back of the picture; it was removed when the painting was lined in 1944 and is now in NGA curatorial files.
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The original support is a single, moderate-weight, plain-weave fabric with threads of various thicknesses, which has been lined with the tacking margins trimmed. Cusping along all edges indicates that the dimensions are unchanged. The pale ground is thinly applied, and a darker imprimatura is used as a mid-tone in the foreground. Paint is applied in thin layers, at times blended wet-into-wet, at times scumbled wet-over-dry, with thin lines drawn fluidly in brush-applied paint. The X-radiographs show no changes.
The painting is in good condition, particularly for a work of its size. Moderate abrasion to the thin upper paint layers is visible in dark passages of the boats, figures, and seascape. The painting has undergone treatment three times since its acquisition: in 1994, when it was lined, in 1958, and in 2000. During the 2000 treatment, it was determined that a cloud at the left edge was not original, and it was consequently removed.
Related IconClass Terms
- landscape +Italianate
- sea seascape
- city view in general
- as symbol of sovereignty
- art criticism
- influence of
- Prince of Orange