I have been fortunate that wherever I have lived has been close to either the sea or a river and I have always been fascinated by the ships and boats that move on these waters. I have spent many a memorable holiday staying in accommodation on both the Rhine and the Mosel Rivers and spent many happy hours relaxing, watching the laden barges as they travelled slowly up and down the busy waterways. So today I decided to offer you a riverscape painting which encompasses all that I love about water and on which the barges that ply their trade,
My Daily Art Display artist today is the Dutch painter Aelbert Cuyp who was born in the Dutch town of Dordrecht which is on an island bordered by a number of rivers, one of which is the Oude Maas, an off-shoot of the Rhine. Aelbert Cuyp was born in 1620 and came from a large family of painters but was by far the most famous. He was the son of the portraitist Jacob Gerritsz Cuyp, who looked after his early training. He, in turn, assisted his father by supplying landscape backgrounds for his father’s portrait commissions. Aelbert soon tired of portraiture and concentrated on landscapes and riverscapes. He was a religious man and had an active involvement in the Dutch Reformed Church.
From his paintings of landscapes and townscapes it is apparent that at some time in his twenties he had travelled extensively within the Netherlands and along the upper Rhine in Germany. Because of the Italianate lighting effects seen in his later works, it is thought he may have spent time in Italy and also mixed with other Dutch Italianate landscape painters.
In 1658, at the age of thirty eight, he married Cornelia Bosman, the wealthy widow of Johan van de Corput, a naval officer and member of a very wealthy Dordrecht family. After his marriage Aelbert appeared to have spent less time painting and more time involved with church activities. His new found wealth meant that he did not have to earn a living by selling his paintings.
Aelbert Cuyp died in Rotterdam in 1691, aged seventy one.
Today’s painting is entitled The Maas at Dordrecht which Cuyp painted in 1650 and is housed in the National Gallery of Art in Washington. In this picture it is not the town of Dordrecht which has centre stage but the River Maas itself and the craft on it which are plying their trade on its waters. This vast, sunny composition specifically accents one figure. In the foreground we see a small boat which has come alongside a sailing barge. In the boat we can see a dignitary dressed in a black jacket with an orange sash. He could be the festival’s master of ceremonies and could also be the patron who commissioned Cuyp to document the historic event. He is greeted by a distinguished looking gentleman who stands among numerous other figures, including a man beating a drum. On the left a second rowboat approaches, carrying other dignitaries and a trumpeter who signals their impending arrival. Most of the ships of the large fleet anchored near the city have their sails raised and flags flying as though they are about to embark on a voyage. The early morning light, which floods the tower of the great church and creates striking patterns on the clouds and sails, adds to the dramatic character of the scene.
It is almost certain that Cuyp was commissioned to mark this event in a painting. The event, a two-week festival, is believed to have happened in 1646 when an enormous fleet of ships carrying thirty thousand soldiers was anchored off Dordrecht. Crowds jam the docks, bugles and drums sound fanfares and cannons fire salutes. One can see that the sunlight in the painting rakes across the panel and by doing so accentuates small bits of detail in the golden light.