Perhaps the greatest Dutch landscapist of the seventeenth century, Aelbert Cuyp was born October 20, 1620. Son of a painter and member of a family full of artists, Cuyp grew up knowing art and developed amazing draftsmanship at a young age. Works such as The Maas at Dordrecht (above, from the early 1650s) show just what detail Cuyp could achieve in his drawing in addition to the beautiful atmospheric effects he created. J.M.W. Turner’s early skies resemble those of Cuyp thanks to Cuyps in British collections by the nineteenth century and to some cross pollination through Canaletto, who saw Cuyp’s works as a slightly later contemporary. Turner saw Canaletto during his travels in Italy. Another cross-influence comes through Claude Lorraine, the Old Master that Turner set as his early standard to equal and surpass. Cuyp is often known as the Dutch Claude thanks to his all-encompassing skies and warm sunlight.
The Valkhof at Nijmegen from the Northwest (above, from the middle 1650s) shows a taste of Nicolas Poussin with its smooth colors and sense of peace, harmony, and balance. The same sense of quiet that permeates Poussin often resounds in Cuyp’s work. Cuyp painted primarily scenes of his native land up until the 1640s and more imaginative scenes after that. In works such as this from the 1650s, Cuyp takes some liberties to make the world glossier and more beautiful than it was. This switch from his earlier style provides the only basis for dating many of Cuyp’s paintings, few of which were ever signed or dated. This lack of provenance combined with the scarce amount of documentation about Cuyp’s life make him a bit of a cipher, as impersonal as his paintings often are.
Nineteenth century English collectors clamored for Cuyp, buying up many of the works that still remain in many prestigious British collections. Of the little known about Cuyp, one well-known fact is his marriage to a wealthy widow in 1658. After 1660, Cuyp barely painted at all, apparently living the 30 years of his life in leisure. Before even that, Cuyp’s work had begun to fall into mannerism (much like that of Canaletto), trite repeats of the same scenes, each less and less inspired to recreate the beauty of nature or add the spark of imagination. Works such as the unfortunately titled The Negro Page (above, from around 1652) show some of Cuyp’s early promise, his ability to depict the earthy elements of Dutch life gracefully and with his trademark cloud-filled skies. The living daylight that Cuyp could once shine through his works dimmed throughout his career, meekly fizzling out as he sat content in the lap of luxury.