Aert van der Neer was a specialist in painting landscapes with distinctive lighting effects – often under moonlight, or at the beginning or end of the day. The title given to this painting (probably in the eighteenth or nineteenth century) suggests that it’s set in the evening, though the cold blues and yellows of the sky could equally well suggest dawn.
What really matters is how the artist has explored the way that the low light affects how we see the landscape. The brightest point is on the horizon, right in the centre of the painting. It backlights the whole scene, silhouetting the battleship anchored in the mouth of the estuary and casting the wood into deep shadow. It creates a long streak of silvery water across the middle ground and picks out a few delicate white highlights on the couple and the cattle in the foreground. All this enhances a sense of depth and distance, which is emphasised by the dark clouds sweeping across the brightening, or darkening, sky.
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