Century Magazine/Volume 48/Issue 1/Old Dutch Masters. Aelbert Cuyp
elbert Cuyp, born at Dordrecht, or Dort, in 1620, and not in 1605, as has been accepted until recently, was perhaps the most versatile of the Dutch masters. He was one of the first of the school, beginning with its robust incipiency, and living to witness its decline. He died in 1691. By the diversity of his talent he contributed greatly to enlarge the list of those homely observations which characterize the art of his period, and the variety of his subjects makes up almost a complete repertory of Dutch life, especially in its rural phases. Indeed, such is the multifariousness of his investigations, and the vigor and independence of his way of proceeding, that be must have been one of the most active promoters of the school. He painted landscapes, sunsets and moonlights, marines, cattle and horses, people of various condition, from those of wealth and refinement to shepherds, portraits, pictures of barn-yard fowl, and groups of still life"; and all with admirable coloring and execution. He was well-to-do, living upon his own estate, and painting what he pleased and at his leisure, and according to the inspiration of the moment. Taking nature ever as his guide, he rarely fails to impress us by a charmingly naïve conception, and an originality of handling quite his own.
Very little is known of his early life; he was the pupil of his father, Jacob Gerritsz Cuyp, an able landscape-painter. It is probable that he visited other parts of Holland before beginning to practise on his own account at Dort. He was little known or appreciated in his day, owing to the taste which sprang up at that time for the extreme finish that the works of Dou and his school exhibit. For this reason Rembrandt also suddenly lost favor, and other rare spirits like Ruisdael were misunderstood and neglected. Until 1750, the best examples of Cuyp were not valued at more than twelve dollars apiece. The English have the honor of first discovering him to the world, and consequently England possesses the majority of his works. The engraved example is one of his finest, and is to be seen in the Louvre at Paris. The picture is one of Cuyp’s largest, measuring 5 feet 7½ inches high by 7 feet 6½ inches wide. The temperament of Cuyp led him to seek calm and sunny scenes, and his rare faculty for rendering light, and the atmospheric effects of hazy morning, of glowing afternoon, and of golden evening, is well known. Dwelling on the banks of the placid Maas, he delighted to reproduce the warm skies of summer or autumn, and the amber-colored atmosphere that enveloped the surrounding hills, and found reflection in the dreamy water. To one proceeding directly from Italy to Holland, the difference in the sunlight of the two countries must appear a striking feature; that of the former is white and brilliant compared with the latter, which is soft and decidedly yellow. The brightest of summer days in Holland always impressed me as though the sun were veiled by yellow mists, and one’s shadow upon the ground would not show clear-cut as in Italy.
Speaking of the painting here engraved, Fromentin, in his admirable work on the old masters of Belgium and Holland, has the following:
- No one could go farther in the art of painting light, of rendering the pleasing and restful sensations with which a warm atmosphere envelops and penetrates one. It is a picture. It is true without being too true; it shows observation without being a copy. The air that bathes it, the amber warmth with which it is soaked, that gold which is but a veil, those colors which are only the result of the light which inundates them, of the air which circulates around, and of the sentiment of the painter which transforms them, those values so tender in a whole which is so strong—all these things come both from nature and from a conception; it would be a masterpiece if there had not slipped into it some insufficiencies which seem the work of a young man or of an absent-minded designer.
What these "insufficiencies" are may be seen in the proportion of the children to the shepherd playing upon the pipe, though this detracts nothing from the charm and poetry of the whole. Such, apparently, is the enchantment of the scene that I have come to imagine these little creatures as intended by the artist to represent the genii of the place, evoked by the music of the shepherd, and the harmony of this rarest of occasions, when all nature is attuned.