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Arthur K. Wheelock Jr., “Aelbert Cuyp/A Pier Overlooking Dordrecht/early 1640s,” Dutch Paintings of the Seventeenth Century, NGA Online Editions, (accessed September 21, 2017).


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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.[1] 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 human and animal activities revolving around the water, which added visual and thematic interest to the inherent beauty of his river scenes.

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 [fig. 1].[2] The three small, wooden fishing skiffs tied up at the rough-hewn pier help give the painting its unpretentious, rustic charm. Across the river Maas rise Dordrecht’s city walls, with the thin spire of the Groothoofdspoort, a major gateway into the inner harbor, prominently at the left. Sailboats or rowboats, which operated constantly, provided ferry transportation across the river to Dordrecht’s neighboring villages.

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.[3] Cuyp’s inspiration may have been the Rotterdam painter Simon de Vlieger (Dutch, 1600/1601 - 1653), who also starkly contrasted the architectural forms of piers and adjacent buildings with vigorous skies and sun-filled, distant river views [fig. 2].[4] De Vlieger, however, never focused as much on the human aspect of the scene as did his Dordrecht counterpart.

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 [fig. 3].

Arthur K. Wheelock Jr.

April 24, 2014


(Sale, by De Vries, Roos, and Brondgeest, Amsterdam, 10-12 May 1853, 2nd day, no. 16); (Lamme).[1] 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.[2] (Galerie Sedelmeyer, Paris).[3] private collection, Basel;[4] (sale, Christie, Manson & Woods, London, 30 November 1973, no. 124); (Brod Gallery, London). (Julie Kraus, Paris), in 1976.[5] private collection;[6] (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.

Exhibition History
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).
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.
Technical Summary

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.