This luminous painting depicts Aelbert Cuyp’s native Dordrecht from the west, as seen from a pier near the village of Zwijndrecht, situated on the opposite bank of the river Maas. The three small, wooden, fishing skiffs tied up at the rough-hewn pier help give the painting its rustic charm. Across the Maas rise Dordrecht’s city walls, with the thin spire of the Groothoofdspoort, a major gateway to the inner harbor, appearing prominently at the left. Sailboats or rowboats provided constant ferry transportation across the river to Dordrecht’s neighboring villages.
Cuyp’s numerous views of river life are extremely varied and demonstrate a remarkable sensitivity to the changing light and water conditions encountered on inland waterways. He could comfortably set boats in the water, even as he visually contrasted water’s translucent and changing surface with the physical presence of heavy wooden hulls and weighty canvas sails. Cuyp’s pictorial sensitivities were also directed toward the activities of humans and animals in and around the water; they added visual and thematic interest to the inherent beauty of his river scenes.
Aelbert Cuyp’s numerous views of river life are extremely varied and demonstrate a remarkable sensitivity to the changing light and water conditions encountered on inland waterways.
This text is based on Arthur K. Wheelock Jr., Aelbert Cuyp (Washington, DC, 2001), no. 8.
This luminous painting, executed in the early 1640s, depicts his native Dordrecht from the west as seen from a pier near the village of Zwijndrecht, situated on the opposite bank of the river Maas
In Arthur K. Wheelock Jr., Aelbert Cuyp (Washington, DC, 2001), no. 8, 189, the site is wrongly identified as being a pier near the village of Papendrecht, which is located to the northwest of Dordrecht on the far side of the river Merwede, a branch of the Maas river delta upstream of the city.
Through the figures’ costumes, Cuyp has effectively captured the differing character of the lands on either side of the Maas. A small rowboat ferrying two burghers, distinguishable by their mode of dress, approaches the Zwijndrecht pier where travelers await the voyage to Dordrecht. Whether rural folk or city dwellers dressed for an outing—the man holding a rifle presumably has gone hunting—those at the pier wear clothing suited for activities in the countryside.
During the early years of his career, Cuyp was particularly intrigued with life along the piers, perhaps because of the variety of scenarios that could be portrayed in this setting.
See Stephen Reiss, Aelbert Cuyp (Boston, 1975), 29, no. 4 for an illustration of Cuyp’s earliest known depiction of a pier, The Melkpoortje on the Dordrecht Harbor, 1639. For further information about this painting, see Alan Chong, “Aelbert Cuyp” in Dictionary of Art, vol. 8 (London, 1996), 268, no. 4.
Stephen Reiss, Aelbert Cuyp (Boston, 1975), 56, was the first author to suggest De Vlieger’s influence on Cuyp for the depiction of such scenes. However, as Henriette Rahusen has noted (personal communication), Cuyp’s view follows a strong cartographic tradition dating back to the late 16th century. See, for example, Georg Braun and Franz Hogenberg’s Civitates Orbis Terrarum, Amsterdam, 1572, where the panoramic view of Dordrecht, as seen from across the river, depicts three people in the foreground standing on a spit of land, seemingly awaiting a ferry to take them back to town.
The forceful, even monumental character of Cuyp’s painting comes largely from the juxtaposition of the boldly modeled foreground forms with the light-filled riverscape beyond them. It is reinforced by the strong emphasis on the horizontal, not only of the pier and the distant horizon, but also of the ripples in the water. With this solid framework firmly established, the sailboats seem to glide effortlessly back and forth, catching the light winds that fill the air. This controlled yet vigorously executed manner of painting is one of Cuyp’s most distinctive characteristics, and is unlike that of any of his contemporaries. Given the freshness of his touch, it is always surprising to discover that Cuyp often repeated compositional elements in different paintings. For example, the rowboat and oarsman in this work are identical to the workman and boat hauling peat in Cuyp’s Cattle and Cottage Near a River from the early 1640s
Arthur K. Wheelock Jr.
April 24, 2014
(Sale, by De Vries, Roos, and Brondgeest, Amsterdam, 10-12 May 1853, 2nd day, no. 16); (Lamme). Herman de Kat, Dordrecht; (his estate sale, Hôtel Drouot, Paris, 2-3 May and 7-8 May 1866, no. 17); Louis Viardot [1800-1883], Paris; (his estate sale, Hôtel Drouot, Paris, 30 April 1884, no. 2). Alfred Thieme, Leipzig, by 1889. (Galerie Sedelmeyer, Paris). private collection, Basel; (sale, Christie, Manson & Woods, London, 30 November 1973, no. 124); (Brod Gallery, London). (Julie Kraus, Paris), in 1976. private collection; (sale, Christie, Manson & Woods, London, 18 April 1985, no. 2); George M. [1932-2001] and Linda H. Kaufman, Norfolk, Virginia; Kaufman Americana Foundation, Norfolk; gift 2012 to NGA.
- Ältere Meister aus sächsischem Privatbesitz, Leipziger Kunstverein, Leipzig, 1889, no. 44.
- Aelbert Cuyp, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.; National Gallery, London; Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam, 2001-2002, no. 8, repro.
- Pride of Place: Dutch Cityscapes of the Golden Age, Mauritshuis, The Hague; National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., 2008-2009, not in catalogue (shown only in Washington).
The painting was executed on a wood panel made from two boards joined horizontally. It has been backed and cradled. Wooden strips have been added to the edges. The thin, off-white ground does not fully cover the color or the grain of the wood. The paint was applied in various thicknesses, sometimes very thinly so that the wood remains visible, and in other areas, the lighter passages in the foreground, for example, the paint is thicker. The sky has been painted more thinly, and sometimes the texture of the artist’s brush is discernible, particularly where he used the end of the bristles to give texture to the clouds. Cuyp applied the paint wet-into-wet, but also manipulated semi-dry layers in some areas, such as the reflections in the water.
The panel is in good condition and is not warped. Some tented paint runs along the grain just above the heads of the figures. Numerous small areas of inpainting are found in the sky, some of which has discolored slightly. It is likely that this inpainting was applied to lessen the dominance of the wood grain, which becomes more pronounced because the paint and ground become more transparent with age. The varnish is even but slightly yellow.
- 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):190, no. 635, 198, no. 662.
- Reiss, Stephen. Aelbert Cuyp. Boston, 1975: 49, 210.
- Chong, Alan. "Aelbert Cuyp and the Meanings of Landscape." Ph.D. dissertation, New York University, 1992: 284-285, no. 28.