Last week I started this short series of articles which culminates on 20 October in a celebration of the four-hundredth anniversary of the birth of the Dutch Golden Age master Aelbert Cuyp (1620–1691). In this second article about his career and paintings, I look at his mature works between 1647-53.
In the mid-1640s, Cuyp is believed to have come under the influence of Jan Dirksz Both (c 1610-52), who had returned to Utrecht by 1646 following a formative period spent in Rome. When he was in Italy, Both transformed his painting thanks to the work of, and working with, Claude Lorrain. As a result, Cuyp changed the direction of light in his landscapes to elongate shadows and enrich his colour ranges. Cuyp’s father was still alive for much of this period, and it’s thought that in some paintings prior to about 1650, the son painted the landscape and father the figures.
Cuyp continued to make fine studies in front of the motif, such as this View of the Groote Kerk in Dordrecht from the River Maas from about 1647-48, which was made using a combination of black and brown chalk and watercolour washes. It’s a pity that the use of watercolours to create finished paintings hadn’t developed among landscape artists of the Dutch Golden Age.
He also painted a few nocturnes, including this view of the Sea by Moonlight from about 1648. In these he was presumably extending his exploration of the effects of light.
Although Cuyp never seems to have become a more dedicated marine specialist, his paintings of ships including The Passage Boat from about 1650, are landmarks at the height of his career.
Passage boats were those which were engaged in regular ferry trips between set ports, in this case probably Dordrecht and Rotterdam, a distance of little more than twelve miles (20 km) by river. With its extensive networks of rivers and canals, these were a popular means of transport at the time. The figures in the boat are finely detailed, and include a drummer towards the stern. The clouds are also finely crafted.
At their best, Cuyp’s coastal landscapes, such as The Maas at Dordrecht from about 1650, are full of rich light, earning him the title of the Dutch Claude Lorrain. This shows another passage boat packed with passengers, together with its drummer.
Also thought to have been painted in about 1650, shortly before his father’s death, it’s possible that Two Cavalry Troopers Talking to a Peasant is a collaboration between the two. Although there’s slight awkwardness in the figures, the horses are finely painted with great detail on their saddlery, including glinting buckles.
Cuyp made animals the subject of his paintings. In his Cows in a River from about 1650, the landscape has been minimised to concentrate on the cattle, although most of his panel is still taken by its striking sky.
Some of his landscapes from this period appear to have been painted in very different terrain. His Migrating Peasants in a Southern Landscape from about 1652 shows people dressed for the more temperate climate of northern Europe in a landscape which could be further south.
Cuyp’s grand view of The Valkhof at Nijmegen from about 1652-54 shows the Imperial castle which was demolished in 1798, on its small hill beside the river. The landscape is bathed in golden light, and broken clouds are tinged with similar Claudean colour as they drift through its lucent sky.
By this time, Cuyp’s father had died, and it’s thought that he painted this Portrait of the Sam Family (c 1853) alone. The foreground figures appear to have been painted in the studio, against a background of the city of Dordrecht, where they lived. Several of the adults and most of the children are holding objects of interest, including a squirrel on a leash, a folded fan, a floral wreath, and two dogs. The distant hills behind the city appear imaginative at the least.