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Nicolaes Berchem, A Man and a Youth ploughing with Oxen

Key facts
Full title A Man and a Youth ploughing with Oxen
Artist Nicolaes Berchem
Artist dates 1620 - 1683
Date made probably 1650-5
Medium and support Oil on canvas
Dimensions 38.2 × 51.5 cm
Inscription summary Signed
Acquisition credit Wynn Ellis Bequest, 1876
Inventory number NG1005
Location Room 19
Collection Main Collection
Previous owners
A Man and a Youth ploughing with Oxen
Nicolaes Berchem

There is a rough grandeur in Berchem’s picture. The oxen are fine animals, well muscled and rich in colour. The man is strong, windswept and sunburnt. His massive arms labour at the primitive plough; his shirt is shabby, but gleams white and clean in the sun. He leans back in a huge effort to shove the plough forward over the last lip of the hillside, digging in hard to have some effect on the unyielding soil.

The scene would have been admired for itself, but also hints at the fortitude of the Dutch peasants who worked the land of the newly founded Dutch Republic. At the time that Berchem painted his picture, these same peasants were – with monumental effort and grinding labour – creating new stretches of land from the sea through digging ditches and dykes.

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