The Wallace Collection

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P49, Aelbert Cuyp, Shipping on the Maas, Dordrecht, c. 1650
P49, Aelbert Cuyp, Shipping on the Maas, Dordrecht, c. 1650
Treasure of the Month - June 2014

Aelbert Cuyp, Shipping on the Maas, Dordrecht, c. 1650

In this majestic painting, Aelbert Cuyp (1620-1691) depicts the Maas, the busy inland waterway that connected his native Dordrect (visible on the right) to Rotterdam. Numerous vessels that ply its busy waters, from a merchant vessel in the distance to a small rowing boat in the left foreground but it is a large passenger ferry or ‘wijdschip’ on the right that dominates the composition. This ferry ran a regular service between Dordrecht and Rotterdam and was a subject that Cuyp depicted in several works. A similar composition can be seen at the Royal Collection, for example.

Cuyp displays here his great skill in depicting light and atmosphere. The cool, silvery palette conveys well Northern light and is to that extent characteristic of his early, naturalistic style.  From the mid 1640’s, however, Cuyp had begun to adopt the mellow, more golden “southern” light effects used by the Italianate painters of Utrecht such as Jan Both (see P28 and P198) and suggestions of this tendency can be seen in the sunlight on the clouds and in parts of the water.  The light falls on the sail of the ferry, and picks up white highlights on the water. The low horizon allows him to devote much of the composition to the swirling pattern of the clouds, which give a sense that they are scudding across in the sky in a strong wind.

Cuyp more often depicted vessels in calm water, but on this occasion he painted a more animated, almost stormy scene. The sail of the ferry is filled with a strong breeze and it throws up spray as it ploughs through choppy waters. Cuyp may have been inspired by contemporary seascapes by the Haarlem landscape painter Jan van Goyen depicting ships being tossed by a breeze. Despite the buffeting wind, the overall sense of this everyday scene is one of stolid calm. This is imparted primarily by the monumental structure of the ferry’s sail and rigging, which are echoed by the tower of the Great Church of Dordrecht and the masts of the Dutch merchant vessel in the distance. The artist adds an anecdotal touch of humour and human interest to the foreground of the painting with characteristically comic little figures. On the left, rowers heave at the oars of a small boat, while to the right the ferry passengers pass the time in conversation and drinking beer.

Although virtually unknown outside his native city during his lifetime, Cuyp’s reputation, particularly in England, grew posthumously from the eighteenth century onwards and Cuyp has come to be recognised as one of the greatest Dutch landscape painters of the seventeenth century. The Shipping on the Maas is one of three paintings by the artist acquired by the 4th Marquess of Hertford, at the time one of Europe’s very foremost collectors, between 1857 and 1868.

The Shipping on the Maas has recently been conserved. The removal of yellowed varnish enables us to appreciate its naturalistic colour range and has also revealed the subtle variety of Cuyp’s technique, from the painstakingly rendered fine lines of the rigging to the rapid swirls of impasto in the spray. Recent technical analysis by Libby Sheldon of the methods and materials as part of the Aelbert Cuyp Research Project has also revealed some new insights into this painting.

Gallery Talks
Thursday 12th and Monday 23rd June at 1pm with Lucy Davis, in East Gallery II.

Further Reading
S. Duffy and J. Hedley, The Wallace Collection’s Pictures. A Complete Catalogue (London, 2011), 94.
J. Ingamells, The Wallace Collection. Catalogue of Pictures IV, 70-71.