In the shade of a rocky cliff, a woman and a child wade in the shallow water of a ford. She looks down at the little boy as he takes a pee in the river. Images of small nude boys relieving themselves were unremarkable in the seventeenth century, although the boys were usually two or three years old, and this child appears a little older.
Dujardin’s picture has a pastoral theme – that is, shows an idyllic rural world. This was much appreciated and sought after by Dutch collectors, bringing idealised images of country life into their busy, crowded city lives. The cliffs behind are rocky and inhospitable but the water is cool and refreshing – the dusty path behind the group is already forgotten. Dujardin shows a charming, gently funny moment in rural life.
In the shade of a steep cliff, a woman and a child wade in the shallow water of a ford. She looks down at the little boy as he takes a pee in the river. Perhaps they have had a long hot journey on the mule, its saddle made of wood, hard and unyielding. The animals wait patiently or lean down to drink. A sheep – its wool painted with Karel Dujardin’s usual attention to realistic texture – is visible through the mule’s legs.
The figure of the woman is unlike many of Dujardin’s Italian peasant women. They are usually neatly and cleanly dressed, with an open necked shirt under a tight bodice (look at A Woman with Cattle and Sheep in an Italian Landscape or Farm Animals with a Boy and a Herdswoman). She has loosened her garments to enjoy the sun and holds up her skirt to keep it out of the water, carefree and relaxed for a few minutes – although she hasn’t forgotten the child who looks up at her.
Images of little nude boys were unremarkable in the seventeenth century – and quite often they were relieving themselves. Most famous perhaps is the Manneken Pis fountain in Brussels, which features a perky two or three year old. The difference in this picture is the age of the boy. He seems to be much older, perhaps eight or nine, his limbs strong compared with the chubby legs of a toddler.
Dujardin’s picture has a pastoral theme. This was much appreciated and sought after by Dutch collectors, bringing idealised images of rural life into their busy, crowded city lives. The cliffs behind are rocky and inhospitable but the water is cool and refreshing – the dusty path behind the group is already forgotten. Dujardin shows a charming, gently funny moment in rural life – but an Italian rather than a Dutch life.
Dujardin concentrated on landscapes but also painted portraits, allegorical subjects and biblical scenes (like The Conversion of Saint Paul in the National Gallery’s collection). But he seems in his element with his rural scenes, portraying the Roman Campagna (the countryside round Rome) as an idyllic setting for rural life. We aren't sure whether he went to Italy in his formative years, but he knew the work of other artists who had spent time there and used their sketches and paintings as the basis for his interpretation of the landscape. In this picture, he marries the rough terrain of the Italian mountains with the clear, bright blue skies and puffy clouds of the Netherlands, and echoes the light catching the heads of the woman and child with the sun catching the rocks above them.
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