This broad, panoramic view of a river valley has long been considered one of Aelbert Cuyp’s most masterful works. In the soft light of the late afternoon, the humid air softens the landscape. Two brightly dressed horsemen have paused their elegant white and chestnut-colored steeds near a cluster of trees. Behind them, two men, one holding his mule’s leash, rest in the shade of the trees while keeping an eye on a small flock of sheep and a cow. On the left, another herdsman tends to two cows, and in the middle distance a rider on a galloping horse provides the only real sign of activity. Farther back, the water’s mirrorlike quality suggests calm conditions in which the sailboats will make only limited progress on the meandering river.
This painting is a prime example of the broad panoramic landscapes that Cuyp began to paint during the 1650s. The two hills surmounted by buildings that appear in the background are from the Rhine valley near the towns of Kleve and Kalkar, not far from the Dutch border. Cuyp visited this region around 1651–1652 and made drawings of these hills in a sketchbook he compiled on this trip. This distant panorama, however, is an imaginative evocation of the valley that he later painted in his studio.
This broad, panoramic view of a river valley has long been considered one of Cuyp’s most masterful works.
The auction catalog of the sale held in Dordrecht in 1785 describes the painting as having “an unusually beautiful execution” and as being “one of the best of this master” (“dit Konststuk is van een ongemeene schoone uitwerking, en een der beste van deezen Meester”).
The pastoral quality of the painting reflects the influence of Dutch artists who had traveled to Italy and brought back images of the Roman campagna. Particularly important was the work of
See Jan Both,
Despite the evocative quality of Cuyp’s pastoral scene, the landscape is based on a real site: the Rhine valley near the towns of Kleve and Kalkar, not far from the Dutch border. The identifying features are two background hills: the Monterberg, the steep-sided hill on the left with twin towers at its summit, and the Eltenberg, surmounted by the partially ruined monastery of Hochelten. These hills, also depicted in other paintings,
See Arthur K. Wheelock Jr., ed., Aelbert Cuyp (Washington, DC, 2001), no. 29.
Also see Arthur K. Wheelock Jr., ed., Aelbert Cuyp (Washington, DC, 2001), nos. 91, 92. Cuyp based another painting on the view from the opposite direction. Several versions of this composition exist, the best of which seems to be that in the Castle Howard Collection, Yorkshire (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. 71).
Nevertheless, a comparison of Horsemen and Herdsmen with Cattle with these drawings indicates that Cuyp freely interpreted topographic elements in this painting. He depicts the Monterberg as a much higher hill than it is in reality, and the two towers are seen to such advantage only from the opposite viewpoint.
Cuyp originally painted the Monterberg as a somewhat lower hill. He seems to have enlarged it for compositional reasons.
Compare with the more topographically accurate depictions produced by Joris van der Haagen (drawing, Kupferstichkabinett, Berlin, inv. no. 11821) or Romeyn de Hooghe (engraving, reproduced in Friedrich Gorissen, Conspectus Cliviae. Die klevische Residenz in der Kunst des 17. Jahrhunderts [Kleve, 1964], no. 106).
J. K. van der Haagen, former chief, museum and monuments division, UNESCO, Paris (letter, November 29, 1964, in NGA curatorial files), tentatively identifies the towns as Griethause (to the left) and Emmerich (immediately to the left of the pale horse, partly behind the twigs of the foreground sapling).
Aside from reusing landscape elements, Cuyp also repeated figures and animal motifs in his paintings. The gray horse, for example, is identical to that in
See Aelbert Cuyp,
See Arthur K. Wheelock Jr., ed., Aelbert Cuyp (Washington, DC, 2001), no. 29.
John Smith, A Catalogue Raisonné of the Works of the Most Eminent Dutch, Flemish and French Painters, 9 vols. (London, 1829–1842), 5:288, and 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. 430. Both Smith and De Groot state that the two pictures were hung as pendants in the Van Slingeland collection, information that they would have gained from Gerard Hoet, Catalogus of naamlyst van schilderyen . . ., 2 vols. (The Hague, 1752/1770), 2:495, who listed Horsemen and Herdsmen with Cattle as one of a “pair of landscapes,” the other of which was probably Landscape with Horse Trainers. The Toledo picture, moreover, came directly after the Washington picture in the 1785 Van Slingeland sale catalog (see note 2 above) and was described as “een Meesterstuk van konst en een weerga van de vorige” (“a masterpiece of art and a pendant of the previous [work]″); see Arthur K. Wheelock Jr., ed., Aelbert Cuyp (Washington, DC, 2001), no. 39, 170 and 206.
Arthur K. Wheelock Jr.
April 24, 2014
lower right: A.cuijp.
Johan van der Linden van Slingeland [1701-1782], Dordrecht, by 1752; (his estate sale, at his residence by Yver and Delfos, Dordrecht, 22 August 1785 and days following, no. 71); Fouquet. Albert Dubois, Paris; (his sale, Le Brun and Julliot at Hôtel Bullion, Paris, 20 December 1785 and days following, no. 16, bought in). William Smith [1756-1835], Norwich; sold privately to Edward Gray, who sold it in 1830. Alexander Baring, later 1st baron Ashburton [1774-1848], Bath House, London, by 1834; by inheritance in his family to Francis Denzil Edward Baring, 5th baron Ashburton [1866-1938], The Grange, Northington, Hampshire; sold 1907 with the entire Ashburton collection to a syndicate of (Thomas Agnew & Sons, London; Arthur J. Sulley & Co., London; and Asher Wertheimer, London); sold 1909 to Peter A.B. Widener, Lynnewood Hall, Elkins Park, Pennsylvania; inheritance from Estate of Peter A.B. Widener by gift through power of appointment of Joseph E. Widener, Elkins Park, Pennsylvania; gift 1942 to NGA.
- Italian Recollections: Dutch Painters of the Golden Age, The Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, 1990, no. 28.
- Aelbert Cuyp, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.; The National Gallery, London; Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam, 2001-2002, no. 38, repro.
- Loan to display with permanent collection , Koninklijk Kabinet van Schilderijen Mauritshuis, The Hague, 2002-2004, no catalogue.
The original, medium-weight, plain-weave fabric support has been lined with the tacking margins trimmed. Cusping on all sides indicates that the original dimensions have been retained. The ground consists of two layers: a lower layer containing white and red pigments and an upper midtone gray layer. The upper gray layer acts as a middle tone from which the artist worked both up and down, applying lighter tones to create the sky, ships, and buildings and darker tones to define foliage of the middleground.
The paint is applied in thin layers, both opaque and translucent, blended wet-into-wet with minimal brushmarking and no appreciable impasto. When creating the sky, Cuyp appears to have applied a lighter gray blue over the middle tone gray, and then scraped through it with the butt end of his brush to place the outlines of forms against the sky. This indented line is visible under magnification only in the sky, in the following areas: along the outline of the left mounted figure and in parts of the left outline of his horse’s head, in the left side of the cloud, and intermittently where the foliage in the trees at the top right meets the sky. This technique may have been used to refine outlines in places rather than as a tool for general placement, since the line is not apparent in all areas. It is also possible that this indented line was once more generally visible, but that it was occasionally covered up by succeeding layers of paint.
Cuyp left large areas of the foreground, the horsemen, the largest tree at right, and the hill with the tower in the left middleground in reserve. The sheep and seated figures at the far right were painted on top of the trees and foliage. In the middleground landscape, the artist painted a foreground sapling before adding the peach-colored tonality to the hills, an unusual sequence of paint application. Cuyp altered the position of the two towers on the Monterberg, the hill in the distant left, and raised the height of the hill.
Numerous scattered tiny losses, particularly along the edges but also in the face of the seated figure at the right, indicate a history of flaking, but abrasion is slight. The painting was lined in 1967. At that time varnish and inpainting were applied over the exhisting discolored varnish. In 1997, the discolored varnish layers and inpainting were removed when the painting underwent a thorough conservation treatment.
 The painting was treated in 1997, at which time the ground layers were characterized by cross-sectional analysis. The analysis was performed by the NGA Scientific Research Department (see report dated August 26, 1997, in NGA Conservation department files). During this same treatment, the NGA Scientific Research department also analyzed the pigments using polarized light microscopy and found them to be consistent with the period (see report dated May 19, 1997, in NGA Conservation department files). The medium was also analyzed by the NGA Scientific Research department using infrared microscopy and gas chromatography and found to be drying oil (see report dated October 8, 1997, in NGA Conservation department files).
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- Hofstede de Groot, Cornelis, and Wilhelm R. Valentiner. Pictures in the collection of P. A. B. Widener at Lynnewood Hall, Elkins Park, Pennsylvania: Early German, Dutch & Flemish Schools. Philadelphia, 1913: unpaginated, repro.
- Paintings in the Collection of Joseph Widener at Lynnewood Hall. Intro. by Wilhelm R. Valentiner. Elkins Park, Pennsylvania, 1923: unpaginated, repro.
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- Paintings in the Collection of Joseph Widener at Lynnewood Hall. Intro. by Wilhelm R. Valentiner. Elkins Park, Pennsylvania, 1931: 40, repro.
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- Hutton, William. "Aelbert Cuyp: The Riding Lesson." Toledo Museum of Art Museum News 4 (1961): 81, 84, repro.
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- Duparc, Frederik J., and Linda L. Graif. Italian Recollections: Dutch Painters of the Golden Age. Exh. cat. Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, 1990: 109-110, no. 28..
- Chong, Alan. "Aelbert Cuyp and the Meanings of Landscape." Ph.D. dissertation, New York University, 1992: 405-406, no. 158.
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- Waagen, Gustav Friedrich. Treasures of Art in Great Britain. Translated by Elizabeth Rigby Eastlake. Facsimile edition of London 1854. London, 2003: 2:110.
- landscape +Italianate
- landscape with tower or castle
- Arcadian scenes
- the rich
- artist +Jan Both + influence of
- etc. +Lower Rhine