Landscape near Dordrecht
Brush and grey, dark grey and brownish grey ink, washed in shades of brownish grey, graphite and black chalk, heightened with gum arabic
Inv. No. 3723
15.3 × 19.6 cm
Aelbert Cuyp, who lived and worked in Dordrecht all his life, is one of the most important Dutch landscapists of the seventeenth century. On account of the delicate treatment of light in his paintings – the golden glow that sometimes gave his scenes the look of southerly lands – he was considered a second Claude Lorrain. Cuyp produced a great number of drawings whose motifs were not always linked to paintings. The Städel Museum possesses a fairly large group of significant drawings by this artist, among which the Landscape near Dordrecht occupies an especially prominent place. When they do not take particular buildings or cityscapes as their subject, Cuyp’s drawings generally show nature in the form of extensive panoramas or other views emphasizing space. This work is thus unusual in that a picturesque oak tree in the foreground plays the leading role. Having evidently been struck by lightning, the trunk has been shattered, and yet the tree is not dead. New shoots are sprouting everywhere, and the one surviving branch seems to be striving all the more vigorously to restore the tree’s former vitality. Behind this dominant motif, placed at the very forefront of the picture, a flat Dutch landscape spreads out in the bareness of what may be early spring. In the distance, on the horizon, we can make out the silhouette of Dordrecht. The essence of Cuyp’s landscapes normally lies in their mood and their composition; in the case of this oak tree burst asunder, however, a symbolic or metaphorical meaning cannot be ruled out. The artist combines several different media, emphasizing the black elements in the foreground by treating them with gum arabic and contrasting them with the pale graphite used for the background, while also introducing an element of colour which, however restrained, creates an impression of depth. The techniques employed are so complex that this scene can hardly have been intended as a study or preliminary drawing, but – most probably – as a work of art in its own right. Cuyp’s drawings are often difficult to date, but this one corresponds with a group he executed in the early 1640s.
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