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Aelbert Cuyp, Peasants and Cattle by the River Merwede

Key facts
Full title Peasants and Cattle by the River Merwede
Artist Aelbert Cuyp
Artist dates 1620 - 1691
Date made about 1658-60
Medium and support Oil on oak
Dimensions 38.1 × 50.8 cm
Inscription summary Signed
Acquisition credit Bequeathed by John Staniforth Beckett, 1889
Inventory number NG1289
Location On loan: Long Loan to the Mauritshuis (2023-2026), Mauritshuis, The Hague, Netherlands
Collection Main Collection
Peasants and Cattle by the River Merwede
Aelbert Cuyp

It is the animals which take centre stage in this picture. On a grassy riverside knoll, four cows and a magnificent jet black horse are spotlit by the warm afternoon sun. Aelbert Cuyp was a brilliant painter of these beasts, especially cattle. He knew exactly how to convey their languor and ponderous bearing, how the light would catch their heavy, rippling hides and the tufted fringes on the powerful ridgeline of their backs. He often repeated the same postures in his paintings.

There are several reasons why cows feature so prominently in Cuyp’s pictures. The seventeenth century had seen increasing reclamation of grazing land, especially around Dordrecht, Cuyp’s home town; many of his clients would have had an interest in dairy farming or have owned land and property in the countryside near the city. The ruined castle on the horizon confirms the location – it is the castle of Merwede, about a mile to the east of Dordrecht.

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