There is a cold grey dawn, but a promise of winter sun as the wind sweeps away the clouds on a Dutch seashore. A young horseman leans down towards a woman kneeling in the shadow of his mount – she holds a large fish up towards him. A patch of light picks out the white apron of a red-cheeked woman smiling up at him and, behind her, the rump of a white horse laden with fishing nets. The turn of its head and the pointing arm of a man nearby draw the eye to the boats in the distance.
Wouwerman is at his skilful best in this delicate and atmospheric scene. He painted detail and subtle colour on an oak board to facilitate the smooth running of the paint, achieving lightness and airiness in the fleeting clouds and depth in the shadows below.
There is a cold grey dawn, but a promise of winter sun as the wind sweeps away the clouds on a Dutch seashore. A young horseman leans down towards a woman kneeling in the shadow of his mount – she holds a large fish up towards him. In front of her a man kneels, gutting more fish. Patches of light pick out the rider’s dog, the rump of a white horse laden with fishing nets and the white apron of a woman with red cheeks, arms crossed on her belly and smiling up at the horseman. The white horse turns its head to look out across the wide expanse of beach, its mane ruffled in the wind.
A man and a woman, heads together and huddled up in heavy clothes, sit just over the lip of the high sand dune on which the small group stand. The man’s arm points out towards small boats in the distance, but his finger curves down towards a man with a huge pack on his back, making heavy weather of the climb up towards them. Wouwerman cut away a part of the sand dune in a sideways curve to open the view of the beach to us, and used the horse’s gaze and the pointing arm to draw our eye to it. He seems to be suggesting that we could walk through the gap and on down towards the billowing white sails of the distant boats and the low hills beyond.
The patient white horse appears in many of Wouwerman’s pictures, three of them in the National Gallery: The Interior of a Stable, A White Horse, and an Old Man binding Faggots and A Horse being Shod outside a Village Smithy. He was an expert in painting horses, capturing the texture of their coats, their soft eyes and the sensation of muscles moving beneath flesh. The white horse seems to have appealed in his imagination as an animal ‘character’, but also as a means of catching light and a way to make otherwise dark, shadowy scenes more lively.
Wouwerman was one of the most successful seventeenth-century Dutch artists, able to paint in almost any genre (except portraiture) but specialising in landscape and scenes of battle – look at the enormous Cavalry attacking Infantry. In this delicate and atmospheric scene he is at his skilful best. He painted detail and subtle colour on an oak board, to facilitate the smooth running of the paint, achieving lightness and airiness in the fleeting clouds and depth in the shadows below.
It was once thought to be Wouwerman’s last painting, although there is no stylistic reason to believe this. Perhaps it imparts enough of a feeling of time passing that the notion isn't entirely surprising.
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