The pleasure of losing oneself in the golden world of Aelbert Cuyp is enhanced by total immersion. For this reason viewers of the Cuyp exhibition in Washington, London, and Amsterdam owe the organizers a considerable debt of gratitude. Besides unadulterated visual pleasure, the exhibition provides a comprehensive overview of the artist’s painted oeuvre and a rich selection of his drawings. Consequently, the presentation of works encourages the viewer to note the striking change from early to late, as well as to chart the nuanced modulations within themes over time. The selection of drawings, too, contributes to a more subtle and complex understanding of Cuyp’s interests and development. This lavishly illustrated catalogue (color reproductions of forty-five paintings and sixty-four drawings) not only displays the range of the show but also captures something of the sheer beauty of Cuyp’s work; the quality of many color details conveys his technical mastery and sometimes even suggests the originals’ play of texture. The volume is divided into two main parts; a series of five essays precede a catalogue of the paintings and of the drawings.
The essays which introduce the catalogue provide informative background and useful documentation. In ‘Aelbert Cuyp and the Depiction of the Dutch Arcadia,’ Arthur Wheelock (with contributions by Jacob M. de Groot) provides information on Cuyp’s biography and family as well as his artistic training and stylistic evolution. Wheelock’s essay gives a broad overview of cultural and artistic currents within the Dutch Republic, but focuses on the pastoral conventions and patriotic associations of the Dutch Arcadia and the Golden Age. Alan Chong’s essay ‘Aristocratic Imaginings: Aelbert Cuyp’s Patrons and Collectors,’ documents and explains the significance of the artist’s clientele in his own day and his critical reception over time. Chong emphasizes Cuyp’s connections with Dordrecht’s rentier milieu. In his discussion of the artist’s critical fortunes he makes a number of suggestive connections between Cuyp’s seventeenth-century patrons and his subsequent popularity among the Whig gentry in eighteenth-century England. The comments of the latter day critics, men such as Boydell and Constable, stand out for their sensitivity to the masterful craftsmanship of Cuyp’s paintings.
Emilie Gordenker’s ‘Cuyp’s Horsemen: What do Costumes Tell Us?’ identifies the dolman type costumes worn by the young boys in the Pompe de Meerdervoort portrait (and by many other of Cuyp’s huntsmen) as Hungarian and explains the popularity of this costume for the seventeenth-century Dutch. Her observation that Cuyp was deliberately basing himself on a few garments in his studio, and her conclusion that such a ‘fanciful mixture of garments’ would have pastoral associations, again draws attention to Cuyp’s selfconscious artistry. Her identification of the horsemen in Rhineland settings as soldiers is equally suggestive given that Cuyp’s trip to that region postdates the Peace of Munster (1648) by only a few years. The last essay on the paintings, Marika Spring’s ‘Pigments and Color Changes,’ documents Cuyp’s choice of pigments. Her work, which describes the careful choices (as with vivianite) and good quality (as with smalt), draws attention to the materiality of Cuyp’s paintings. Finally, in ‘The Beauty of Holland: Aelbert Cuyp as a Landscape Draftsman,’ Egbert Haverkamp-Begemann characterizes the subject matter favored by Cuyp, discusses the influence of Utrecht, and provides a general discussion of landscape. Haverkamp-Begemann’s overview of Cuyp’s drawings conveys their variety of styles and the ways in which they may be grouped; they can be distinguished as much by the size and format of the paper as by the theme or location. He considers the place of the drawings in Cuyp’s chronology, noting that his most active period as a draftsman was as a young man of nineteen or twenty (1639/40), as well as their place within particular sketchbooks. The majority of drawings appear as series; many are from the environs of Dordrecht, but others may be grouped in association with his travels to other towns. Here, as in the other essays, the author draws attention to Cuyp’s mastery, his awareness of the developments that preceded him, and his ability to draw on this tradition to shape his own vision.
Part II, the catalogue, is in many ways the meat of the volume. In this section, especially, text and illustrations encourage engagement with individual works and provide an unfolding sense of Cuyp’s artistic development. Here is the proof of Arthur Wheelock’s opening assertion that ‘The appeal of his [Cuyp’s] paintings and drawings, however, lies not only in their subject matter but also in their distinctive style, for Cuyp infused his Arcadian subjects and river views with a light, color, and clarity of form that is firmly grounded in reality.’ Here, too, Haverkamp-Begemann’s passing comment on Cuyp’s shaping his own vision and on the artist’s mastery are set forth and described. No one who looks at the illustrations and reads the text carefully can miss the reworking and modulations in the paintings and drawings or the dialogue between the two media. From early pictures like the Farm with Cottages and Animals to the late River Landscape with Horsemen and Peasants Cuyp’s intensity of personal vision and ability to work variations on a theme are manifest. What the catalogue entries and the illustrations suggest, and what is proven by viewing the pictures, is Cuyp’s masterful technique. The contrast between the conventional foreground coulisse and topographical background remarked on by Haverkamp-Begemann in his discussion of the drawings takes on a selfconscious artfulness in the paintings. The Budapest Cows in a River, for example, reveals an exquisitely differentiated application of paint as juicy pigment in the reeds, as painterly reflection in the water, and as a smooth mirror of reality in the distant view. Such passages in his landscape paintings make explicit Cuyp’s transformative vision even as they draw attention to his craft.
The College of William and Mary