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Arthur K. Wheelock Jr., “Aelbert Cuyp/Landscape with Herdsmen/mid-1650s,” Dutch Paintings of the Seventeenth Century, NGA Online Editions, https://purl.org/nga/collection/artobject/100926 (accessed October 19, 2017).

 

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Overview

This bucolic landscape depicts two horsemen who have stopped on a small rise overlooking a broad river valley to ask local herdsmen for directions. With figures and cattle silhouetted against an expansive sky and late afternoon light bathing the scene in a golden glow, the painting conveys the sense of peace and tranquility that pervaded the Netherlands after the signing of the Treaty of Münster in 1648 that ended the war against Spain and finally established the Dutch Republic.

This highly evocative landscape is based on a real place: the valley of the Rhine River near the towns of Cleves and Calcar, not far from the Dutch border. Cuyp had visited this broad river valley in the early 1640s and recorded his impressions of its towns, churches, and windmills in a series of panoramic drawings that were once part of a sketchbook. When Cuyp painted this work, he referred to one of his drawings of the town of Calcar, which housed the ruins of the castle of the dukes of Cleves, seen here in the far distance behind the haze. Nevertheless, atmosphere, not topography, was Cuyp’s primary concern, and the result is this quiet, reflective image of an Arcadian Dutch countryside.

Entry

In this beautifully preserved, luminous work two horsemen have stopped on a small rise overlooking a broad river valley to ask local herdsmen for directions. The moment is one of little narrative significance, yet the low vantage point and the quiet dignity of the figures and cattle silhouetted against the blue sky give the scene a monumental grandeur far greater than the painting’s modest scale might seem to warrant. The golden light of the late afternoon sun further enhances the pastoral mood as it softens the landscape in the distance and casts a quiet, peaceful spell over the scene, a veritable Dutch Arcadia.[1]

This evocative landscape is one of several similarly serene scenes depicting herdsmen tending cattle that Cuyp painted in the late 1640s and early 1650s, shortly after the signing of the Treaty of Münster in 1648 that ended the Dutch Revolt. This bucolic image conveys the aura of peace and pastoral well-being that must have been strongly felt after the 80 years of struggle leading to the formation of the Dutch Republic. Dairy cows, whose creamy milk yielded the cheeses and butter that were important to the Dutch economy, represented the wholesome prosperity of the Dutch nation, and this concept may underlie the significance Cuyp has given to the herd in this work.[2] Cuyp emphasized the animals’ dignity by orienting the group on a horizontal axis along which their overlapping forms become visually connected. The two cows at the left, with their distinctively noble profiles, gaze out over the landscape, almost as guardians of the peaceful and verdant river valley stretching beyond them. Although Cuyp emphasized these pictorial qualities in this carefully considered composition, they are already evident in the chalk drawings of cows that he made in anticipation of paintings such as this [fig. 1].[3] These drawings, sometimes with small variations, must have served as models for Cuyp’s paintings. Here, for example, the resting cow gazing off to the left is also found in Cuyp’s Peasants and Cattle by the River Merwede, datable to the late 1650s [fig. 2]. [4]

Cuyp’s paintings of the early 1640s are often tonal landscapes of the Dutch countryside similar to those made by Jan van Goyen (Dutch, 1596 - 1656). Around 1650, however, he began to create landscapes that reflect the influence of Dutch Italianate artists, among them Jan Both (Dutch, 1615/1618 - 1652), Nicolaes Pietersz Berchem (Dutch, 1620 - 1683), and Jan Asselijn (Dutch, c. 1610 - 1652), who were then returning to the Netherlands after prolonged stays in Italy. Cuyp adapted not only the golden light and contre-jour effects of the late afternoon sun that characterize their works, but also the gentle cloud formations that grace their skies. Following the Italianates’ inspiration, he also began rendering distant landscapes in a broadly suggestive manner and started using large, somewhat abstractly rendered shrubs as repoussoir elements in his foregrounds. As a result, paintings such as this one often have a generalized pastoral character that defies localization.

The evolution in Cuyp’s style is evident in a comparison of this painting of the mid-1650s with his River Landscape with Cows from the late 1640s [fig. 3]. Although both paintings portray a realm where man, animal, and nature coexist in peaceful harmony, the impact of the two works is strikingly different. The emphasis of the earlier work is on the dramatic sky, with shafts of light breaking through billowing clouds. In this later painting Cuyp has emphasized the quiet stillness of the air warmed by the sun—an effect he has reinforced by silhouetting the cattle prominently against the golden sky and by using muted tones in the distant river valley. The single puffy cloud formation that floats above the land is more decorative than real, a characteristic that becomes quite pronounced in his Arcadian images of the mid-1650s.[5]

Despite the evocative quality of Landscape with Herdsmen, the setting is based on a real place: the valley of the Rhine River near the towns of Cleves and Calcar, not far from the Dutch border. In the early 1640s, when Cuyp first visited this broad river valley dotted with towns, churches, and windmills, he recorded his impressions in a series of large panoramic drawings that were once part of a sketchbook. Years later, when Cuyp painted Landscape with Herdsmen, he referred to one of these drawings: a view of Calcar with Monterberg, a hill on which stood the ruins of the castle of the dukes of Cleves, rising in the distance [fig. 4]. Nevertheless, atmosphere, not topography, was Cuyp’s primary concern in this luminous painting, for Monterberg almost disappears from view beyond the gentle haze emanating from the river valley. The quiet, reflective quality of this scene captures the essence of Cuyp’s ideals of the Dutch Arcadia, an approach to landscape that characterizes the artist’s work throughout the rest of his career.[6]

Arthur K. Wheelock Jr.

June 30, 2017

Inscription

lower right: A. cuyp. .

Inscription

Provenance

Probably (sale, by J. A. Jolles and H. de Winter, Amsterdam, 23 May 1764, no. 41, bought in). C. Price, London; Frederick Howard, 5th earl of Carlisle [1748-1825], London, and Castle Howard, Yorkshire, by 1771;[1] by descent in the Howard family to George James Howard, 9th earl of Carlisle [1843-1911], London and Castle Howard; purchased September 1907 by (P. & D. Colnaghi, London), half share with (M. Knoedler & Co., London and New York);[2] sold July 1909 to William Andrews Clark [1839-1925], New York; bequest 1926 to the Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington; acquired 2014 by the National Gallery of Art.

Exhibition History
1815
Probably Pictures by Rubens, Rembrandt, VanDyke, and other Artists of the Flemish and Dutch Schools, British Institution for Promoting the Fine Arts in the United Kingdom, London, 1815, no. 57.[1]
1822
Probably Pictures of the Italian, Spanish, Flemish, and Dutch Schools, British Institution for Promoting the Fine Arts in the United Kingdom, London, 1822, no. 136 or no. 138.
1828
Probably Pictures by Italian, Spanish, Flemish, and Dutch Masters, British Institution for Promoting the Fine Arts in the United Kingdom, London, 1828, no. 83.
1853
Probably Pictures by Italian, Spanish, Flemish, Dutch, French and English Masters, British Institution for Promoting the Fine Arts in the United Kingdom, London, 1853, no. 7.
1861
Possibly Royal Dublin Society, 1861, no. 61, as Cattle Piece.[2]
1959
Loan Exhibition. Masterpieces of the Corcoran Gallery of Art: A Benefit Exhibition in Honor of the Gallery's Centenary, Wildenstein, New York, 1959, unnumbered catalogue, repro.
1978
The William A. Clark Collection: An exhibition marking the 50th Anniversary of the installation of The Clark Collection at The Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington DC, Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, no catalogue.
2001
Aelbert Cuyp, National Gallery of Art, Washington; The National Gallery, London; Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam, 2001-2002, no. 25, repro.
Exhibition History Notes

[1] The early exhibition history references are all tentative, as the Earl of Carlisle owned six paintings attributed to Cuyp, several depicting cattle and horsemen, and the exhibition catalogues provide no detailed descriptions or size information.

[2] Lent by George William Frederick Howard, 7th earl of Carlisle (1802-1864), this painting could be the NGA painting; see Alan Chong, “Aelbert Cuyp and the Meaning of Landscape,” Ph.D. dissertation, New York University, 1992: 375 n. 2.

Bibliography
1829
Smith, John. A Catalogue Raisonné of the Works of the Most Eminent Dutch, Flemish and French Painters. 9 vols. London, 1829-1842: 5(1834):309, no. 93.
1853
"The British Institution. The Old Masters.” The Art-Journal 5 (July 1853): 173.

1907
Hofstede de Groot, Cornelis. A Catalogue Raisonné of the Works of the Most Eminent Dutch Painters of the Seventeenth Century. 8 vols. Translated by Edward G. Hawke. London, 1907-1927: 2(1909):129, no. 424.
1907
Hofstede de Groot, Cornelis. Beschreibendes und kritisches Verzeichnis der Werke der hervorragendsten holländischen Maler des XVII. Jahrhunderts. 10 vols. Esslingen and Paris, 1907-1928: 2(1908):123, no. 424.
1913
Graves, Algernon. A Century of Loan Exhibitions, 1813-1912. 5 vols. London, 1913-1915: 1(1913):240, no. 57; 241, no. 136 or 138; 242, no. 83; 244, no. 7.

1925
Carroll, Dana H. Catalogue of Objects of Fine Art and Other Properties at the Home of William Andrews Clark, 962 Fifth Avenue. Part I. Unpublished manuscript, n.d. (1925): 134, no. 74.
1928
Corcoran Gallery of Art. Illustrated Handbook of the W.A. Clark Collection. Washington, 1928: 38.
1930
Holmes, Jerrold. "The Cuyps in America." Art in America 18, no. 4 (June 1930): 185, no. 31.
1932
Corcoran Gallery of Art. Illustrated Handbook of The W.A. Clark Collection. Washington, 1932: 43, no. 2063, as Landscape with Cattle, Shepherd and Horses.
1955
Breckenridge, James D. A handbook of Dutch and Flemish paintings in the William Andrews Clark collection. Washington, 1955: 11, repro.
1959
Corcoran Gallery of Art. Masterpieces of the Corcoran Gallery of Art. Washington, D.C., 1959: 14, repro.
1967
Dattenberg, Heinrich. Niederrheinansichten holländischer Künstler des 17. Jahrhunderts. Die Kunstdenkmäler des Rheinlands 10. Düsseldorf, 1967: 74, no. 82.
1975
Reiss, Stephen. Aelbert Cuyp. Boston, 1975: 126, no. 89, repro.
1986
Sutton, Peter C. A Guide to Dutch Art in America. Washington and Grand Rapids, 1986: 299, fig. 451.
1988
Heugten, Siraar van. "Grazende modellen: Aspecten van het Nederlandse veestuk.” In Meesterlijk Vee: Nederlandse Veeschilders 1600–1900. Edited by C. Boschma. Exh. cat. Dordrechts Museum; Fries Museum, Leeuwarden. Zwolle, 1988: 23-24, repro.
1992
Chong, Alan. "Aelbert Cuyp and the Meanings of Landscape." Ph.D. dissertation, New York University, 1992: 373-375, no. 133.
1995
Wheelock, Arthur K., Jr. Dutch Paintings of the Seventeenth Century. The Collections of the National Gallery of Art Systematic Catalogue. Washington, 1995: 48, 50 n. 13, as Five Cows, Herdsmen and Two Riders..
2001
Coyle, Laura, and Dare Myers Hartwell, eds. Antiquities to Impressionism: The William A. Clark Collection, Corcoran Gallery of Art. Washington, DC, 2001: 22-23, 67, repro.
2001
Wheelock, Arthur K., Jr. Aelbert Cuyp. Exh. cat. National Gallery of Art, Washington; National Gallery, London; Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam. Washington, 2001: no. 25, 142-143, 197-198, repro.
Technical Summary

The painting was executed on a horizontally grained oak (est.) panel with the top, bottom, and right edges of the panel beveled on the reverse. In a past treatment by Stephen Pichetto, a cradle was adhered to the reverse after applying fill material and wooden inserts to compensate for the bevels. It is likely that the reverse was slightly thinned prior to the application of the cradle.

The support was prepared with a double ground, with the bottommost layer off-white in color and the top layer tan. The paint is fairly smooth, with only low impasto in the details of the foliage in the foreground. The sky was painted in first, leaving reserves for the figures and animals, which were likely blocked in with black paint, evidenced by the dark shapes visible in the X-radiograph. The paint was applied in stages, wet-over-dry, though some areas such as the landscape and foreground were painted wet-into-wet, overlapping the drier paint of the sky and animals below.

The paint layers are in good condition and the panel is structurally sound. There are a few old damages to the panel, including two horizontal cracks that start at the center of the left edge and extend into the sky, as well as a minor crack in the lower right corner. No instability in the panel is associated with these damages. Overall there are minor scattered losses, most of which have been retouched. The two resting cows and the areas of landscape exhibit a fine craquelure pattern that has associated minor losses.