Four hundred years ago today, the Dutch Golden Age landscape painter Aelbert Cuyp (1620–1691) was born. In this last of my series of three articles about his career and paintings, I show some of his last works from the later 1650s, and some which remain undated.
In about 1655, Cuyp painted this narrative landscape with the story of Saint Philip Baptising the Ethiopian Eunuch, referring to the account of Philip the Evangelist in chapter 8 of the Acts of the Apostles. Following the instructions of an angel, Philip went to the road between Jerusalem and Gaza, where he met the treasurer to Candace, Queen of the Ethiopians. As the Ethiopian Eunuch was sitting reading Old Testament scripture in his chariot, Philip explained the text and taught him the Gospel of Jesus. The eunuch was converted and baptised as a result.
Cuyp sets this story in a golden Claudean landscape more akin to the south of France or even Italy, with rich detail in the riverside plants, the figures and animals.
Winter scenes of frozen rivers and canals had become very popular during the Golden Age. Although Cuyp doesn’t appear to have painted many of these, his Ice Scene Before the Huis te Merwede near Dordrecht from about 1655 is up with the leaders. Notable here are his foreground reflections, and another wonderful sky with its warm clouds. This ruined castle was built to the south-east of Dordrecht in the early fourteenth century, and ruined a hundred years later.
A Senior Merchant of the Dutch East India Company is a fascinating double portrait painted during 1650-59. It’s thought to show Jacob Mathieusen and his wife, against a background of the company fleet in Batavia roads. This city in what was then the Dutch East Indies is now the site of Jakarta in Indonesia. There’s no record of Cuyp ever having visited this imagined location, and he appears to have painted the background on the basis of contemporary topographic images, then painted his subjects in the studio.
Cuyp’s Claudean Hilly River Landscape with a Horseman talking to a Shepherdess from about 1655-60 is another fine combination of landscape and animal painting. Unfortunately, the cinnabar which he used for the huntsman’s coat has become darkened in patches, making it one of the few oil paintings in which this problem has become obvious.
A Road near a River from about 1660 is the last of Cuyp’s paintings for which I have a date, and perhaps his finest closing summary. It’s a landscape in the style of Claude Lorrain, with long shadows and the warmth of the setting sun. There’s a small flock of sheep and a sleeping dog, the shepherd chatting with a friend. Further down that road are two more figures, one of them sat on a pony. On the other side of the river, with its broken reflections, is a cottage and more people. In the distance is a very un-Dutch crag, and the ruins of a castle. Above all this is the peaceful sky of settled weather, divided into two by a pair of finely crafted trees.
This undated painting of Cattle near a River appears to be from earlier in his mature period, and shows careful attention to the reeds in the foreground.
Cattle near the Maas, with Dordrecht in the Distance has a milkmaid at work on one of the cows, a slightly awkward-looking heron at the lower left corner, and a magnificent sky.
Cuyp’s undated Interior of a Cowshed is a fine portrait of a cow leading the herd into a shed, with good use made of chiaroscuro and details of the tools, tackle and equipment inside.
In 1658, Cuyp married Cornelia Bosman. Within two years, he had apparently stopped painting completely, and was a deacon of the Reformed Church. It has been speculated that it was his marriage which terminated his art. Whether that’s true or not, for the final thirty years of his life he seems not to have made another painting. That is a real tragedy, but at least we have some of his best from a career of twenty years, landscapes for all reasons.