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Nicolaes Berchem, Mountainous Landscape with Muleteers

Key facts
Full title Mountainous Landscape with Muleteers
Artist Nicolaes Berchem
Artist dates 1620 - 1683
Date made 1658
Medium and support Oil on canvas
Dimensions 109 × 126 cm
Inscription summary Signed; Dated
Acquisition credit Wynn Ellis Bequest, 1876
Inventory number NG1004
Location Not on display
Collection Main Collection
Previous owners
Mountainous Landscape with Muleteers
Nicolaes Berchem

Autumnal colours and a soft sky lend a certain melancholy to a vast landscape. The high cliff and spindly birch trees on one side and a dark cluster of undergrowth on the other narrow the view, almost hypnotic in its stillness. The figures in the foreground seem almost incidental but flashes of white capture the attention.

A group of travellers with pack mules, known as muleteers, takes advantage of a stop to tend an injured animal and to take a rest. Berchem keeps the figures small and tightly packed so their activities – examining the mule, adjusting a shoe – need to be disentangled.

We don't know if Berchem had ever been to Italy but he knew other artists, such as Jan Both, who had; what is certain is that he understood the breadth, moods and colours of its landscapes. These were highly prized and sought after by his audience, many of whom had never left the flat plains and northern light of the Dutch Republic.

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