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Landscape near Rhenen: Cows Grazing and a Shepherd Playing the Flute

© 1996 RMN / Jean-Gilles Berizzi

Dutch painting

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This landscape - a northern Arcadia bathed in idealized Italianate light - is one of Cuyp's best known paintings. Its enchanting poetry ensured the success of Cuyp, the Claude Lorrain of Holland. The tower in the distance is not Utrecht Cathedral but the church of Rhenen.

A moment's rest

Aelbrecht Cuyp excelled in several genres: portraiture, landscape, still life, and animal painting. In this painting, one of the artist's greatest and most accomplished, he demonstrates his talents. A shepherd plays the flute for a young boy and girl, who listen to him attentively as they stroke a sheepdog. The chiaroscuro of the foreground sets off the warm russet and ocher hues of the cows. The anatomy and rippling muscles of these peaceful creatures are treated with great naturalist vigor. Cuyp even includes a highly realistic spurt of urine from the brown cow on the right. In the misty distance, beneath towering clouds, are the outlines of two windmills and a peaceful town reflected in the water. The tower of the church has been identified as that of Rhenen. The hazy grays are very close to those of Jan van Goyen.

An Arcadian landscape

Cuyp establishes a monumental equilibrium, based on the diagonal dividing the painting, between the figures and the landscape's golden light effects. This fleeting moment could be either dawn or dusk, as suggested by the shadows engulfing the faces. Yet it is a moment tinged with melancholy: the gentle harmony of this pastoral scene is as tenuous as the invisible melody linking these beings. This familiar scene may be an allusion to Arcadia, the ideal landscape so often depicted by painters - in this case, an Arcadia of the North.

The "Dutch Claude Lorrain"

Cuyp never traveled to Italy but was greatly influenced by Italianate painters such as Jan Both. From this Dutch movement came his taste for highly structured compositions and the golden light in the foreground. His idealized light, rivaling that of Claude Lorrain, bathes typically northern scenes. This original synthesis earned him the nickname "the Dutch Claude" in the 18th century, and his charming pastoral poetry inspired Marcel Proust:
"Cuyp, the setting sun dissolving in the limpid air
clouded like water by a flight of wood pigeons,
A golden mugginess clinging to the forehead of an ox or a birch,
The blue incense of fine days smoking on the hill,
The empy sky steeped in a swamp of clearness."
(Pastiches et mélanges, 1919)


Le Siècle de Rembrandt : tableaux hollandais des collections publiques françaises, Éditions de la Réunion des musées nationaux, 1970, p. 48.

Technical description

  • Aelbert CUYP (Dordrecht, 1620 - Dordrecht, 1691)

    Landscape near Rhenen: Cows Grazing and a Shepherd Playing the Flute

    c. 1650/55, beginning of the artist's mature period

  • H. 1.70 m; W. 2.29 m

  • Collection of Louis XVI (acquired in Brussels, 1783)

    INV. 1190

  • Paintings

    Richelieu wing
    2nd floor
    Holland, middle and second half of 17th century
    Room 841

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Additional information about the work

Signed: A. CUYP