The large Dort

A group of motley cows rests in the warm glow of the evening sun. The milkmaid empties her milk ton into a bronze pitcher. In the upper right, a shepherd sits with his herd. In the background, we see the Great Church of the small Dutch trading town of Dordrecht.
It is also this city, where the painter of this work and the protagonist of our exhibition - Aelbert Cuyp - was born in the fall of 1620 (at the Nieuwe Haven); where he died in 1691 and where he is still buried. During his lifetime he does good business as a landscape painter. He is loved by the elite of Dordrecht. When he marries a wealthy Dordrecht widow in 1658, he even becomes one of them.

Een verre blik op Dordrecht, met een melkmeisje en vier koeien en andere figuren, een schilderij gemaakt door Aelbert Cuyp
Aelbert Cuyp
A Distant View of Dordrecht, with a Milkmaid and Four Cows, and Other Figures
The National Gallery, London The Wynn Ellis Bequest, 1876
ca. 1650

More than a century later, the peaceful outdoor life that Cuyp frequently put on canvas was extremely popular with wealthy British collectors and talented landscape painters. The term 'Cuyp-like' even became a often used term among English painters and writers.

Cuyp himself did not experience any of this international success. During his own lifetime his fame did not extend much further than Dordrecht. He could never have suspected that his 400th birthday would be celebrated with a major exhibition like this one.

Father and son

Like father, like son. That is certainly the case with the Cuyp family. This work is by father Jacob Cuyp, the portrait specialist of Dordrecht. Wealthy Dordrecht residents like to have themselves and their children captured in Jacob's portrait store. That can be very classical and rigid, but also hunting in a Dutch landscape, as the six-year-old Michiel does here.
Son Aelbert also proved to be a good brushstroker and soon helped out in his father's painter's workshop. But he does not imitate him unquestioningly. He discovers that he has more talent for landscapes. This creates a fascinating collaboration between father and son. For the landscape behind the hunting Michael, for example, Jacob used a drawing by Aelbert. Aelbert, in turn, copied many animals from Jacob's prints.

Portrait of Michiel Pompe van Slingelandt
Jacob Gerritsz. Cuyp
Portrait of Michiel Pompe van Slingelandt
On loan from the Cultural Heritage Agency, 1953

After Jacob's death Aelbert continues the store and workshop. The people of Dordrecht still know how to find the store. This way Aelbert can also build up his loyal clientele for his landscapes. During his life, Aelbert, like his father, is mainly known in his own city. How different is that a century later.

His popularity becomes so great that his father's work and name fall into oblivion. Many of Jacob's works are even put in Aelbert's name, as was also the case with this work for a long time.

The crossing to England

How the first works of Aelbert Cuyp ended up in England is unknown. Various stories are circulating. For example, a Swiss dealer in London is said to have exchanged a few works by Cuyp in Dordrecht around 1740 for watches and scissors in order to resell them in England.
Whatever the truth of the story may be, from this period onwards the sale of Cuyps to England got off to a good start. At first this was done slowly and at low prices, but by the end of the 18th century there were hardly any Cuyps to be found in the Netherlands. A real Cuyp rage conquered the British island.

Een avondlandschap met figuren en schapen, een schilderij gemaakt door Aelbert Cuyp
Aelbert Cuyp
An Evening Landscape with Figures and Sheep
The Royal Collection Trust, London Lent by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II
ca. 1657-1660

Similarly, in 1785 the painting collection of Johan van der Linden van Slingelandt of Dordrecht was auctioned. This wealthy ironmonger owned a collection of hundreds of paintings, including no less than 40 works by Cuyp. Until that time these works had never left the city and now they are suddenly crossing the North Sea.

This work also ended up in England through this auction and it does not go unnoticed. The later King George IV, a great Cuyp lover, buys the work in 1814 for his personal collection. And still today, this "Landscape with Shepherds and Travelers by Evening Light" is part of the Royal Collection. It normally hangs in Buckingham Palace, the palace of Queen Elizabeth.

The English taste

One of the first Cuyps to reach England. It was purchased in 1760 by the 25-year-old Nathaniel Ryder for the considerable sum of £21, the equivalent of 210 days’ wages for a skilled craftsman. Cattle pieces like this were popular among British collectors at that time, and this painting is still in the same family. It signalled a new phase in Cuyp’s oeuvre, in which the horizon is lower, the figures smaller and the landscape and sky take centre stage.

Rivierlandschap met ruiter en vee, schilderij gemaakt door Aelbert Cuyp
Aelbert Cuyp
River Landscape with Horseman and Cattle
The National Gallery, London Purchased with the assistance of the National Heritage Memorial Fund and the Art Fund, 1989
ca. 1660

Sunrise and sunset in Nijmegen

One of the most 'painterly' cities in the Netherlands in the 17th century is undoubtedly Nijmegen; a city with a centuries-old history that also impressed landscape painters. Cuyp visited Nijmegen around 1650 and made many drawings of the Valkhof, which he later elaborated into paintings in his studio; such as these two cityscapes. In Cuyp's time they probably hung together in a Dordrecht mansion. In the 18th century they moved to various English buyers. Now, for the first time, they can be seen together again.

The paintings seem to complement each other perfectly. On the left work you see the castle of Nijmegen from the other side of the river Waal, on the right you are almost standing in front of the gate of the castle. As if you had gone there yourself. The feeling that you are making the journey yourself is reinforced by the light. To the left it is sunrise and after a day on the banks of the Waal, you arrive at the gate at sunset in the evening. Who knows, maybe Cuyp's visit to Nijmegen went exactly like this.

Aelbert Cuyp - The Valkhof at Nijmegen - 1650
Aelbert Cuyp
The Valkhof at Nijmegen
Purchased with the aid of the Art Fund, 1972
The Valkhof at Nijmegen on the River Waal, door Aelbert Cuyp
Aelbert Cuyp
The Valkhof at Nijmegen on the River Waal
Woburn Abbey Collection
ca. 1655 - 1660

Gainsborough's Preference

When the first Cuyps arrived in London in the 1840s, Thomas Gainsborough was in the front row. The later famous portrait and landscape painter was at that time in the English capital learning to become a professional painter. He had a special interest in Dutch landscapes from the 17th century and therefore must have been extra curious about this new name on the art market.
Twenty years later, Gainsborough reflected his accurate observations of Cuyp and other Dutch landscape painters in his own work. He does not attempt to imitate Cuyp, but combines typical Cuyp elements with his personal loose painting style.

Kusttafereel met scheepvaart en vee
Thomas Gainsborough
Coastal scene with shipping and Cattle
Sarah Campbell Blaffer Foundation, Houston

Look at the motley cattle on a hill overlooking the water. The cow on top directs our gaze to the sailing ships on the calm water. Especially the dramatic silhouette en profil of this cow against the sky betrays that Gainsborough looked very closely at Cuyp's work.

Gainsborough's daughter would say after his death that he had a passionate fondness for Cuyp. We also see his passion for Cuyp motifs in other works.

Gainsborough's style

Thomas Gainsborough lived to be 61 and produced an impressive number of works in the nearly 40 years he painted. As the leading portrait painter of high society, his fame even grows to include the English royal family. But in time he prefers to paint something else. To a friend he writes one summer day, "I am sick and tired of portraits and would very much like to walk to a lovely village to paint landscapes."

Thomas Gainsborough, Landschap met twee koeien bij een kudde
Thomas Gainsborough
Landscape with Two Cows near a Herdsman and Milkmaid
Purchased with the support of the Rembrandt Association (thanks to her BankGiro Loterij Aankoopfonds), the Mondriaan Fund, the Corporate Friends of th
ca. 1786

He regularly combines the useful with the pleasant by giving his clients a rural background. In addition, he creates landscapes and livestock mainly for his own pleasure. The influence of the Dutch landscape painters is never far away in this respect. This piece by Gainsborough was purchased by the Dordrechts Museum in 2019 because it is so strongly reminiscent of Cuyp. The cows in two colors, prominently in the foreground; it is also an important feature of Cuyp's work.

Yet here the loose, somewhat coarse painting style is particularly striking. In his later years, Gainsborough developed this very personal style of painting, in which it seems as if all the brush lines are in motion. A big difference with the quiet, tranquil landscapes of his Dutch inspiration.

Cuyp back in Holland

Starting in 1740, more and more of Cuyp's paintings make the crossing to England. The Dutch merchant spirit does its work well. It even becomes a total sell-out. Around 1800 there is hardly a Cuyp left in the Netherlands.

Rivierlandschap met twee ruiters gemaakt door Aelbert Cuyp
Aelbert Cuyp
River Landscape with Two Horsemen
Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam
ca. 1655-1660

Now that his work is so popular in England, more and more Dutch people are also realizing that few painters can match Cuyp's quality. Shame rises to the jaws of art lovers at the thought of letting the works go so easily.

That, of course, must be rectified. Only it will take some time. It was not until 1965 that an important work by Cuyp was bought back from England for the first time. The Rijksmuseum then proudly presented this purchase River Landscape with Horsemen in the Gallery of Honour. A real Cuyp with the characteristic resting cows, the calm water and... a man with a red jacket as a color accent. Take a closer look at his other works and discover the red garments there too.

Slowly but surely, more and more of Cuyp's paintings are being returned, and we can now enjoy several masterpieces by this Dutch master in our own country as well.

Cuyp as an inspiration

Two river landscapes side by side: on the left The Maas at Dordrecht, on the right The Thames at London. In composition and atmosphere the works are very similar: the golden evening light, the clouds, the smooth water surface, the large sailing ship on the right. If you didn't know any better you might think that the same painter worked here twice. However, between Cuyp's work on the left and that of British, Augustus Wall Callcott on the right, there is a good 150 years.

In 1815 Callcott saw The Maas at Dordrecht at an exhibition of the British Institution. It makes a deep impression on him. This is the first time that the British Institution has organized an exhibition featuring only foreign painters, in this case of Flemish and Dutch masters.

The exhibition is not well received by all English painters, but Callcott seizes the opportunity to study Cuyp's painting in detail. Normally Cuyp's canvases hang in noble country houses, but now everyone can admire them in the heart of London. A year later, Callcott exhibits his answer to Cuyp's work. The Entrance to the Pool of London is a great tribute to the painter from Dordrecht.

Schilderij genaamd The Maas at Dordrecht gemaakt door Aelbert Cuyp,  zeilboten met veel bemanning op de maas
Aelbert Cuyp
The Maas at Dordrecht
National Gallery of Art, Washington Andrew W. Mellon Collection
ca. 1650
Augustus Wall Calcott, Pool of London
Augustus Wall Callcott
The entrance to the pool of London
Bowood House Collection, Derry Hill

Constable and the weather

Salisbury Cathedral, lying on the River Nadder, against a backdrop of an ominous thunderstorm.
The study of weather, meteorology, is in the spotlight at the beginning of the 19th century. For example, the British naval commander Beaufort establishes his wind power scale, the English pharmacist Luke Howard publishes an international atlas of clouds, and the invention of the telegraph allows for the exchange of current weather data between different countries.

John Constable - Salisbury Cathedral from the Across the Meadows - ca. 1829-30
John Constable
Salisbury Cathedral from the Across the Meadows
Guildhall Art Gallery, London
ca. 1829-30

During this exciting scientific time, the painter John Constable worked on his typical English landscapes. He is often seen as a painter who broke with the past. Instead of working in a studio, he moves outdoors for his sketches. There he captures his landscapes with large oil sketches, only to translate them into final work in his studio.

Yet Constable also has a thorough knowledge of the work of earlier landscape painters, such as that of the Dutchmen Aelbert Cuyp and Jacob van Ruisdael. Especially their works depicting extreme weather are to Constable's liking. He was particularly impressed by a work by Cuyp depicting a dark thunderstorm with lightning over Dordrecht. Constable also tried to capture such special weather situations himself. As in this preliminary study for his famous painting Salisbury Cathedral, in which he ultimately opted for a rainbow between the clouds instead of the reflections of lightning.

English crowd pleaser

Today, anyone can study Rembrandt's Night Watch in great detail from the comfort of their armchair. Thanks to the worldwide web. If you wanted to see a masterpiece in England in the early 19th century, you had to have the right connections. Old European art was hidden behind the doors of grand country houses and city palaces and rarely shown to the general public.

With the opening of the Dulwich Picture Gallery in London in 1817, that is finally a thing of the past. Now everyone can marvel at Rembrandt, Rubens and the English crowd pleaser Cuyp. The gallery even shows 19 works attributed to Cuyp, including Shepherds with Cattle: a land of peace bathed in a rose-gold backlight. It has been described as "perhaps the most beautiful Cuyp in the world".

The English painter and Cuyp enthusiast Callcott probably saw the masterpiece years earlier in a private collection. To Cuyp's left, hangs Callcott's Cow Boys from 1807. With the shepherds so right of center and next to them a steep mountainside, the compositions look suspiciously similar. The threatening, dramatic sky nevertheless gives it his own twist.

Augustus Wall Callcot, Cow boys
Augustus Wall Callcot
Cow boys
Herbert Art Gallery & Museum, Coventry
Schilderij herdsmen with cows gemaakt door de schilder Aelbert Cuyp
Aelbert Cuyp
Herdsmen with Cows
Dulwich Picture Gallery, London
ca. 1645

Turners' competitive spirit

If there is one English landscape painter for whom Cuyp is both a great inspiration and rival, it is William Turner. The famous Turner measured himself not only against his contemporaries, but also against his predecessors. For example, in his titles he regularly refers to painters from earlier times, as in Port Ruysdael or the painting Rembrandt's Daughter. It is a tribute, but also a competition. For who is better: the old master or Turner?

Joseph Mallord William Turner, Union of the Thames and Isis, ca. 1808
Joseph Mallord William Turner
Union of the Thames and Isis
Tate, Londen
ca. 1808

What Turner admires most in Cuyp is his treatment of light. He speaks of Cuyp's radiant glow, which is also a feature of his own sunlit landscapes. He also adopts other Cuyp-like motifs. Such as the cows that stand here prominently with their legs in the water in a low evening sun. It all strongly reminds one of the Dordrecht master.

When Turner once admired a Cuyp with a friend, he hinted at his competitive nature. He remarks that "one would have found it much too warm in color if he had painted it. As if Cuyp had an edge over him. According to his biographer, Turner himself had become convinced halfway through his life that he had surpassed Cuyp. As if an angel had told him, that's how sure Turner was at the time.

The light of Cuyp and Turner

William Turner is a painter of the outer category. He is England's most beloved romantic painter. British museums are therefore major collectors of his work and only very occasionally does a Turner appear on the international art market. Nevertheless, the Dordrechts Museum, together with a private collector, has succeeded in adding this early work by Turner to its collection.

Whalley Bridge and Abbey was painted by Turner around 1811, commissioned by an English country house owner living near the bridge. The works that Turner makes at this time are very reminiscent of Cuyp's paintings. Both the bright serene light and the misty backlight of Cuyp influenced Turner's work. In Whalley Bridge we see how the bright Cuyp light evokes an atmosphere of stillness. While in the work Abingdon next door, the golden misty backlight plays the leading role. The sun pierces through the mist with its rays and gives color to the landscape. Typical Turner and also typical Cuyp.

As a true fan, Turner traveled to Dordrecht as many as four times in his life. He wanted to see the city and the light of Cuyp with his own eyes. Now that a Turner can also be admired in the Dordrechts Museum, the circle is complete.

Joseph Mallord William Turner - Whalley Bridge - ca. 1811
Joseph Mallord William Turner
Whalley Bridge
Collectie Dordrechts Museum, bruikleen particuliere collectie
ca. 1811
William Turner - Abingdon - ca. 1806-1810
William Turner
Tate, Londen
ca. 1806-1810

Constable and Cuyp

The influence of Aelbert Cuyp on the work of John Constable is not always easy to see. Unlike Gainsborough and Turner, Constable did not directly adopt Cuyp motifs, but rather drew inspiration from Cuyp to observe nature. That he did study Cuyp's works closely is shown by this drawing.

In 1819 Constable copies this painting by Cuyp, Horse, Shepherd and Cows Resting in a Landscape, which is shown at a major exhibition of the British Institution. In doing so, he is clearly not interested in the exact proportions of the original. For example, he depicts the horse smaller in relation to the cows. The drawing is primarily a study of Cuyp's lighting effects and aerial detail. By leaving the sketch paper blank on the left side of the horizon, Constable suggests the glow of the setting sun. With many quick pencil lines, he then depicts the light and dark parts in the clouds. The fleeting and natural character of Cuyp's sky is a perfect match for Constable's fluid way of working. Regarding Cuyp's use of light, Constable later remarks that it is this power that creates space.

tekening van John Constable, Cows and Herdboy, after Aelbert Cuyp
John Constable
Cows and Herdboy, after Aelbert Cuyp
Victoria and Albert Museum, London
ca. 1818
Schilderij Cows and herdboy gemaakt door de schilder Aelbert Cuyp
Aelbert Cuyp
Cows and Herdboy
ca. 1818

Study of Clouds by John Constable

Nature caught in the act. That's the idea you get when you look at John Constable's cloud studies. He also often very accurately indicates the time of painting. On the back of this study it says: September 31, 1822, between 10 and 11 in the morning. That Constable makes a date error here, as September has only 30 days, proves all the more how quickly he works.

Schilderij wolken  gemaakt door John Constable ,de naam van het schilderij isStudy of Clouds, 1822
John Constable
Study of Clouds
The Ashmolean Museum, University of Oxford

Constable's studies are usually painted on sheets of paper attached together, which he glues back to back for strength. He then pins this large sheet to the lid of his painting box. And so he sits with his makeshift easel in the open air sketching the clouds. Or was he perhaps lying on the ground here? The strange angle from which this cloud study is painted suggests that he must have been looking straight up.

Constable makes hundreds of oil studies of skies. He uses them for larger and more elaborate paintings intended for exhibitions. When a potential client asked him in 1833 if he could buy a few cloud studies, Constable indignantly refused and replied that after his death they would be "available by the dozen - for nothing."

Ice view of Dordrecht

Cuyp's fame in England rises to great heights in the late 18th century. His paintings were sold for record amounts. In 1795 the Duke of Bedford paid £650 for this winter scene by Cuyp, a huge amount at the time.

Schilderij Fishermen on the Frozen River Maas, ca. 1655 gemaakt door Aelbert Cuyp
Aelbert Cuyp
Fishermen on the Frozen River Maas
Woburn Abbey Collection
ca. 1655

The painting also receives exceptionally good reviews. Art critics praise it in particular because Cuyp has succeeded in making a winter view, warm and sunny. The fishermen, who use long sticks to push their nets under water in a loch, stand out sharply against the sunlit, misty background. Cuyp at its best.

But... not everyone agrees. There are comments on the simple figures, for example, a criticism that is often levelled at Cuyp's work. And even his clouds, his specialty of course, are parodied. With their angular shapes they would ruin the painting completely. Judge it yourself, did the Duke of Bedford buy a masterpiece or not?

Schetsboekje Turner – Grote kerk

William Turner is an enthusiastic and tireless traveler. Over a period of more than 50 years, armed with pencil and sketchbook, he made a large number of journeys for inspiration. And not only within England, he also regularly crossed over to the European mainland. Dordrecht, the city of his great inspiration, Cuyp, was of course an essential part of his itinerary.

Cathedral at Dordt from the 'Dort Sketchbook', 1817
William Turner
Cathedral at Dordt from the 'Dort Sketchbook'
Tate, London

In 1817, Turner visited Dordrecht for the first time. On his way back from a trip to Germany and Belgium, he spent the night in Rotterdam. With the barge De Zwaan he sails to Dordrecht. Upon approaching the city, he must have immediately recognized the stubby tower of De Grote Kerk. That year he drew the Great Church from different angles: from far away and close by, from the water or from the quay. As here from the Aardappelmarkt along the Nieuwe Haven.

In total, Turner visited Dordrecht at least four times. He often provided his sketches of the city with commentary, sometimes also referring to Cuyp. For example, he makes notes about a small Cuyp scuyt and rays of light. A better way to get close to your idol is hardly conceivable.

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