Cows in a Pasture beside a River before the Ruins of the Abbey of Rijnsburg
The earliest paintings of Aelbert Cuyp (1620-91) such as his 1640–2 River Scene with Distant Windmills (National Gallery, London) are in the tonal style of Jan van Goyen, except that his paint layer is thicker and much more sensually applied. This work of a few years later exhibits many of the same features: earth colours; areas of paint applied thickly in a variety of mannered patterns like mould growing on a dish; a mundane, flat fens-and-fields motif. In this later example, however, the extra-low viewpoint takes the figures away from any possible encounter, an effect heightened by the fact that they turn away from us. The colour in the sky also has a luminosity and spectrum of light quite unlike that of tonal painting, as is the way in which the mist swallows up the ruins: this is like the Herdsmen with Cows of c.1645 (Dulwich Picture Gallery, London), admired by William Hazlitt for being ‘woven of ethereal hues’.
The ruin in the background has been identified as that of the Abbey of Rijnsburg near Leiden; the absence of any distinctive and legible architectural features makes this difficult to sustain with any certainty. Ruins appear in many prints of the period and are usually castles, like Brederode and Huis te Kleef, destroyed by the Spanish in the 1570s and 1580s. The fact that the ruin is here combined with the emblematic ‘Dutch Cow’, as well as copper milk vessels to convey their great productivity, suggests that this may be intended as a celebration of the conclusion of the war (an outcome realistically expected at this time) and the anticipated benefits of peace.
Text adapted from Dutch Landscapes, London, 2010