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Nicolaes Berchem, Peasants by a Ruined Aqueduct

Key facts
Full title Peasants with Four Oxen and a Goat at a Ford by a Ruined Aqueduct
Artist Nicolaes Berchem
Artist dates 1620 - 1683
Date made probably 1655-60
Medium and support Oil on oak
Dimensions 47.1 × 38.7 cm
Inscription summary Signed
Acquisition credit Bought, 1871
Inventory number NG820
Location Room 19
Collection Main Collection
Previous owners
Peasants by a Ruined Aqueduct
Nicolaes Berchem

The evening sun touches the sturdy cattle standing at the foot of the ruins of a Roman archway. The soft light casts shadows on the weather-worn stones, displaying the ruin’s age and former grandeur. The hills behind may have been recorded by Berchem during a possible stay in Italy, but the cows are unmistakably Dutch cows, highly valued for their vital place in the Dutch economy.

Berchem’s work, like that of other Italianate painters –- who had lived in Italy and been influenced by the work of Italian artists, the southern landscape and the remnants of Antiquity – was prized by collectors until well into the nineteenth century, but then began to be seen as ‘un-Dutch’ and therefore less interesting. The picture became part of Sir Robert Peel’s large collection of Dutch and Flemish paintings. When the collection was bought for the nation in 1871, the taste for such paintings was perhaps already seen as old-fashioned. Italianate landscapes were more widely appreciated after a groundbreaking exhibition held in 1965.

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