Stables were found everywhere in the seventeenth century – but this is no ordinary one. A peacock is perched on a branch at the entrance. Outside, there’s part of a weathered but grand building; birds nest on its roof and climbing plants drift over windows. The entrance and the trees give an air of age and continuity. This is the stable of an old aristocratic household, with its many grooms, stable boys and coachmen.
Wouwerman seems to have enjoyed painting scenes in rich but subtle colours – like the lush yellow jacket of the rider with his back to us, the detail of the black blot on the white horse’s rump and its red rosette. And he portrays many little incidents in one picture, giving us lots to discover, to interpret, to discuss and come back to.
Stables were found everywhere in the seventeenth century – but this is no ordinary one. A peacock is perched on a branch at the entrance. Outside, there’s part of a weathered but grand building; birds nest on its roof and climbing plants drift over windows. The entrance and the trees give an air of age and continuity. All are clues to the kind of establishment this is: the stable of an old aristocratic household, with its many grooms, stable boys and coachmen.
At first, it seem almost too dark to see the cavernous inside of the stable – as if you need to take a moment for your eyes to adjust to the shadows, as you would if you were there. The spirited white pony with the scarlet rosette and the black blot on its rump grabs our attention. It paws the ground, its princely little head nods; its mane looks almost blow-dried into crisp waves. The lush yellow jacket and hat with curled feathers worn by the mounted horseman beside the pony is the next bright spot of colour to catch the eye. He leans to the side to bring his horse to a halt and seems to glance down at the transaction going on below him – a visitor, perhaps, tipping one of the stable boys for looking after his mount.
Outside, on the left, a woman gets water from a well; Wouwerman draws attention to the detail of the pulley overhead by her raised hand. A horse is led into the stable, and behind it a fine grey mare carries in a woman wearing silk, lace and feathers. On the far right side of the space, chickens cluck about for scraps and more horses wait their turn to be groomed. But there’s fun to be had in the stable too: a lad, probably the son of a stable boy, rides a frisky goat, while a woman tends its kid.
Wouwerman seems to have enjoyed using rich but subtle colours to paint scenes that give the viewer lots to discover, to interpret, and to discuss and return to. His skill in the portrayal of horses was supreme – his favourite, the white horse, appears in many of his pictures (look at A White Horse and an Old Man binding Faggots and Two Horsemen at a Gipsy Encampment, One having his Fortune told). This skill and his ability to capture the genuinely expressive movement of the human body and face brought him enormous popularity in his own time and long after, and can still delight today.
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