Cuyp was the most talented member of a family of painters from Dordrecht, where—as elsewhere in Holland—city dwellers entertained idyllic notions of life on the land (a tradition going back to the Roman poets Horace and Virgil). In this sun-blessed landscape under satiny clouds, cows sit around like sofas on a carpet of grass and the three figures (a family?) appear to discuss nothing more urgent than which way they might take an afternoon stroll.
This large and typical work by Cuyp dates from the later years of the artist's activity, about 1655–60. In proposing a comparatively late date, Alan Chong (1992) refers in particular to the handling of the clouds, which have a crispness and "Italianate sheen" not found in works of the early 1650s. The overall composition varies a scheme that the artist had employed for about a decade, but with an assurance that belies the impression of inventing a scene in the studio. Cuyp's familiar idea of aligning parallel cows so that they overlap and gently lead the eye into depth is lent rhythm and grace by the arrangement of the resting animals, which continue the curve of the hill. The foursome serves as a foil to the crowning motif, a standing black cow silhouetted against the bright sky and facing in the opposite direction. The aesthetic refinement of the work is suited to its subject, which has been described as a "Dordrecht Arcadia." In other contexts, the cow could serve as a national emblem, or as a sign of Dutch prosperity. In Cuyp's hometown, it is possible that such a painting would have evoked personal associations, since a number of his patrons owned farms in the area.
Comparisons with Cuyp's drawings of cattle show how important these studies were for his paintings, and also how the artist tended to idealize the animals in the final work. In addition to landscape and animals, Cuyp also drew studies of plants like those to the lower right, the largest of which may be butterbur.
A copy after this picture was sold at Sotheby's, Amsterdam, on April 29, 1985 (no. 273, canvas, 42 1/2 x 50 3/8 in.).
[2011; adapted from Liedtke 2007]
Inscription: Signed (bottom left): A : cuÿp.
Rodolphe Kann, Paris (until d. 1905; his estate, 1905–7; cat., 1907, vol. 1, no. 32; sold to Duveen); [Duveen, London, 1907–8; sold for $124,185 to Altman]; Benjamin Altman, New York (1908–d. 1913)
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "The Age of Rembrandt: Dutch Paintings in The Metropolitan Museum of Art," September 18, 2007–January 6, 2008, no catalogue.
Wilhelm [von] Bode. Gemäldesammlung des Herrn Rudolf Kann in Paris. Vienna, 1900, p. IV, pl. 30.
Wilhelm [von] Bode. Gemälde-Sammlung des Herrn Rudolf Kann in Paris. Vienna, 1900, p. XV, ill. p. XIII (gallery photograph), as coming from England.
Émile Michel. "La Galerie de M. Rodolphe Kann (1er article)." Gazette des beaux-arts, 3rd ser., 25 (May 1901), p. 399, ill., calls it a masterpiece of the artist's mature period.
Max J. Friedländer. "Mr. Rudolf Kann's Picture Gallery in Paris." Art-Journal, n.s., (1901), p. 156, ill. p. 153.
Auguste Marguillier. "La collection de M. Rodolphe Kann." Les arts 2 (February 1903), p. 28, ill. p. 26.
Catalogue of the Rodolphe Kann Collection: Pictures. Paris, 1907, vol. 1, pp. IX–X, 34, no. 32, ill. opp. p. 34.
Connoisseur 19 (November 1907), p. 197, ill. p. 136.
Marcel Nicolle. "La Collection Rodolphe Kann." Revue de l'art ancien et moderne 23 (January–June 1908), p. 198.
Cornelis Hofstede de Groot. A Catalogue Raisonné of the Works of the Most Eminent Dutch Painters of the Seventeenth Century. Ed. Edward G. Hawke. Vol. 2, London, 1909, p. 72, no. 217, gives provenance information.
Handbook of the Benjamin Altman Collection. New York, 1914, p. 24, no. 15.
François Monod. "La Galerie Altman au Metropolitan Museum de New-York (2e article)." Gazette des beaux-arts, 5th ser., 8 (November 1923), p. 310, calls it the "nec plus ultra" of Cuyp's "symphonies of serenity".
Handbook of the Benjamin Altman Collection. 2nd ed. New York, 1928, pp. 86–87, no. 47.
Jerrold Holmes. "The Cuyps in America." Art in America 18 (June 1930), p. 182, no. 19, mistakenly mentions (p. 177) and illustrates (fig. 6) "Landscape with Cattle" (MMA, 91.26.8; now attributed to Jacob van Strij) under this title.
Jakob Rosenberg and Seymour Slive inDutch Art and Architecture: 1600 to 1800. Baltimore, 1966, p. 154, pl. 131, date it about 1665.
J. Bolten. Dutch Drawings from the Collection of Dr. C. Hofstede de Groot. Utrecht, 1967, p. 56, under no. 17, lists it among several paintings that include a cow based on a drawing in the Hofstede de Groot collection.
Jakob Rosenberg and Seymour Slive inDutch Art and Architecture: 1600 to 1800. rev. ed. Harmondsworth, England, 1972, pp. 263–64, fig. 210.
Howard Hibbard. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York, 1980, pp. 348–49, fig. 629 (color), dates it "1650s?".
Peter C. Sutton. A Guide to Dutch Art in America. Grand Rapids, Mich., 1986, p. 191, calls it "an excellent mature example of Cuyp's art".
Mary Ann Scott. Dutch, Flemish, and German Paintings in the Cincinnati Art Museum: Fifteenth through Eighteenth Centuries. Cincinnati, 1987, p. 47, under no. 15, dates it about 1650.
Walter Liedtke. "Dutch Paintings in America: The Collectors and Their Ideals." Great Dutch Paintings from America. Exh. cat., Mauritshuis, The Hague. Zwolle, The Netherlands, 1990, p. 48, fig. 36 (Altman gallery installation).
Alan Chong. "Aelbert Cuyp and the Meanings of Landscape." PhD diss., New York University, 1992, pp. 54, 67, 378–79, no. 137, notes that the leaves in the foreground are related to drawings in Hamburg and Dordrecht.
Seymour Slive. Dutch Painting 1600–1800. New Haven, 1995, p. 195, fig. 268, dates it about 1655–60.
Esmée Quodbach. "The Age of Rembrandt: Dutch Paintings in The Metropolitan Museum of Art." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 65 (Summer 2007), pp. 31–32, fig. 32 (Altman gallery photograph).
Walter Liedtke. Dutch Paintings in The Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York, 2007, vol. 1, pp. 136, 149–51, no. 34, colorpl. 34; vol. 2, p. 797 n. 10, p. 853.