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Nicolaes Berchem, Peasants with Cattle fording a Stream

Key facts
Full title Peasants with Cattle fording a Stream
Artist Nicolaes Berchem
Artist dates 1620 - 1683
Date made about 1670-80
Medium and support Oil on oak
Dimensions 29.5 × 45.3 cm
Inscription summary Signed
Acquisition credit Bequeathed by Lord Colborne, 1854
Inventory number NG240
Location Not on display
Collection Main Collection
Previous owners
Peasants with Cattle fording a Stream
Nicolaes Berchem

Many Dutch artists went to live in Italy when they were young and brought their idyllic dreams of a warmer, slower, rural lifestyle home to an enthusiastic Dutch public. Nicolaes Berchem was probably one of them. Dutch cities were growing fast and people were migrating to them from the country in large numbers. Perhaps they wanted memories of home – or an idealised version of the countryside.

The slow, patient cows, painted in warm browns and glowing whites, look out at us with soft eyes. Two women, strong and statuesque, wade through the water. The low sun catches their sturdy calves and strong arms, with touches of brilliant white in long, thick hair, on pushed-up sleeves and on the lowered neck of their dog.

Above all, the picture evokes sound – not just the occasional moo from a cow, but the sudden creak as it moves, the whisk of a tail, the swish of hooves in the gurgling water and the bleat of a sheep or goat.

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