The sun catches the face of a sheep lying in the shade of a tree. Light filters down through the leaves on to its thick curly fleece, painted in exquisite detail by Karel Dujardin.
Dujardin has added a quirkiness to his figures, giving them real humanity. The herdswoman has found the tedious business of spinning too much in the heat of the day and has dropped her distaff and spindle. The little boy makes the dog sit up and beg but, finger to his lips, has a thought for the sleeping woman.
The scene is one of pure imagination, adapted from sketches Dujardin made in the countryside surrounding Rome. He gathered motifs he could use in landscapes he made after his return to the Netherlands. There, he had a successful career as a painter of the idyllic Italianate landscapes that were so popular with Dutch collectors.
The sun catches the face of a sheep lying in the shade of a tree. Light filters down through the leaves on to its thick curly fleece, painted in exquisite detail by Karel Dujardin. The sheep bleats; another turns its head away, its long ears drooping. A ram tosses its curling horns – perhaps there are midges under the tree – but the donkey and other animals doze on regardless.
Tranquillity seems to settle over the picture, painted in so many shades of green, from the greyish mud in the foreground through the plants around the tree (some of which may have turned a bluish shade due to fading of the pigment) to the misty filigree of the tree itself and the parched yellowing grass of the distant hill.
The scene is one of pure imagination, adapted from sketches Dujardin made when he was in Rome. He went out to the surrounding countryside – the Roman Campagna – to gather material. On his return home he had a successful career as a painter of the idyllic Italianate landscapes that were so popular in the Netherlands. Other Dutch artists who had been in Rome did the same, but they peopled their pictures with figures from Roman mythology or, more often, with idealised versions of the Italian peasants they had seen at work – ploughing rough ground, plodding up a mountainside on laden mules (like Nicolaes Berchem’s A Man and a Youth ploughing with Oxen or Jan Both’s Peasants with Mules and Oxen on a Track near a River).
Dujardin has added a quirkiness to his figures, giving them real humanity. The herdswoman, her forehead shining in the sun and her arm dropped at her side, has let her distaff and spindle fall on a convenient rock: the tedious business of spinning wool by hand is too much in the heat of the day. The little boy makes the dog sit up and beg but without the usual boisterous din of such a game. Finger to his lips, he has a thought for the sleeping woman. Dujardin has an eye for a quirky pose too: the dog on its haunches, the strange angle of the sheep’s leg and its open mouth – no doubt accurately observed, but still seeming a little odd.
Although his themes are similar, Dujardin did differ from his Dutch contemporaries painting in the Italianate style. Like theirs, his Italian landscape is hilly, even mountainous, in the distance. There’s a ruined castle on the skyline, though the rest of the scene is earthy and realistic, from the dead tree to the cowpats beneath it. You might also find these in a view by Berchem or Both, but their skies are lit with a soft, golden glow that warms the landscape. Dujardin’s skies are silvery, bright and clear, the clouds light and moving. There’s a feeling that once the brief siesta is over, the spinning will begin again, the boy will be up and away with his dog and the animals will graze in the radiant sun.
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