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Work A River with Cattle Drinking and Distant Mountains

Department of Prints and Drawings: 17th century

Paysage : une rivière ; homme et vaches au bord de l'eau

Prints and Drawings
17th century

Author(s):
Maget Antoinette

This drawing by Nicolaes Berchem, an artist whose style ranges from rustic simplicity to imaginative whimsy, depicts cattle drinking from a river. Typical of an artist who worked "in the Italian manner," it was probably produced in the mid-17th century. A prolific painter, Berchem nearly always included cattle in his landscapes, even when they were not, as here, the central subject.

A peaceful watering place

Beyond the tranquil expanse of water that occupies the foreground of the drawing are a number of placid cattle drinking or grazing before a hilly landscape and a distant horizon. The subtle play of shades between the gray wash and the black chalk, a technique typical of the artist, renders the landscape in all its details and expresses all its poetry. Comparison with View of a River with Mountains in the Distance (New York, Pierpont Morgan Library), itself signed and dated "CP Berghem f./1654," suggests that this drawing was executed in 1650-60. In any event, the mid-century had been marked for Berchem by a change of subject matter: while in his early years the artist had produced drawings of historical scenes and studies of people and animals, he then began to draw landscapes with open horizons, a water course, and the occasional ruin, populated by animals and their herdsmen.

A Dutchman in Italy?

Nicolaes Berchem, the son of a still-life painter, was one of the great Dutch landscape artists of the 17th century. From 1642 to 1677, he lived in Haarlem and, despite the southern atmosphere of some of his works, there is no evidence that he traveled to Italy. He was clearly influenced by the works of such artists as Jan Asselijn and Jan Both, and it was the study of his contemporaries that made it possible for him to give his landscapes a convincing Italian appearance and Mediterranean light. Around 1650, he traveled through Westphalia and Lower Saxony with Jacob van Ruysdael. During his forty years of professional life, Berchem produced a great deal of work; some 850 paintings and 500 drawings are still extant.

Landscape variations

Berchem was an acute observer of light; this, on the one hand, enabled him to produce an almost photographic vision of nature and, on the other, to suggest an "inner vision" within in these perfectly realist landscapes. Here the draftsman reveals his command of simplicity: light is subtly suggested by the contrast between the white paper and the dark accents of the black chalk. Berchem is one of those virtuosos who with their unequaled talent, remarkable sense of staging and scenery, delicate and attractive use of light and pigment, and liveliness of line, succeeded in giving landscape a spiritual significance, bringing about the transformation of the genre. His works had a great influence on pastoral art in general and on painters such as Boucher in particular.

Bibliography

E. Starcky, Inventaire Général des dessins des Écoles du Nord, Supplément à l'inventaire F. Lugt, Paris, Éditions de la Réunion des musées nationaux, 1988, n 200, p. 146.
P. Schatborn, "Claesz Pietersz. Berchem", in Drawn to Warmth : 17th Century Dutch Artists in Italy, Amsterdam, Rijksmuseum, 2001, pp. 187-213.

Technical description

  • Nicolaes Pietersz Berchem (Haarlem, 1620-Amsterdam, 1683)

    A River with Cattle Drinking and Distant Mountains

    1650-60

    Troward Collection; William Esdaile Collection, London, purchased 1807; Walter Gay Collection, Paris

  • Black chalk and gray wash; edged in pen and black ink at bottom

    H. 8.8 cm; W. 19.1 cm

  • Gift of Walter Gay Collection, Paris, 1938

    4029061

  • Prints and Drawings

    Due to their fragility, works on paper are not on permanent display in the museum.

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Additional information about the work

Note on reverse in pen and brown ink: WE-1807-Trowards collection, P. 8, N 567/Berghem