A keen eye for effects of light distinguishes the landscape paintings of Aert van der Neer. Here, the artist turned his attention to the sun setting over a river, with brilliantly illuminated pink and yellow clouds casting their reflections onto the water below. In the foreground, wayfarers of various social classes move along a serpentine road that draws the eye back toward a village in the distance. In its coloration and anecdotal detail, the painting reveals Van der Neer’s awareness of landscapes by such Flemish contemporaries as Jan Brueghel the Elder and Peter Paul Rubens.
This colorful canvas represents a river at sunset, with boats, cows, and travelers enlivening the landscape. A village with a church appears on the left, while farmhouses and a tower are visible in the right background. A sailboat full of people and a barge full of cows move over the still surface of the water. The dead tree on the right frames the view and carries the eye up to the brilliantly colored clouds. In this wide panorama, the river seems not only to recede but also to flow forward and out of the composition to the right. As in similar works by the artist, the picture includes motifs that bring the eye back to the center, to the gently curved horizon, and to the frequent discovery of picturesque or painterly effects.
Van der Neer's optical interests are strikingly evident in the sky and less assertively so in the water. The dark vertical strokes next to the boat by the shoreline, the reflections by the boats on the right, and the transition from a shadowy to a shiny surface in the river are instances of Van der Neer's understated sensitivity to observed and aesthetic effects.
As Schulz (2002) maintains, these qualities support a later dating than that suggested in earlier literature. Van der Neer's sunset scenes and other landscapes of the 1640s are by comparison almost naive in their treatment of light, space, and certain motifs, such as trees. The standardized foliage of the trees to the left in The Met's picture also occurs in paintings by the artist dating from midcentury, but these works already reveal the special interest in light effects that comes to fruition here. River views of approximately this composition are common in the early 1650s and often feature beautiful skies. A variety of stylistic considerations inclined Liedtke (2007) to favor a dating in the 1650s rather than the early 1660s, as Schulz tentatively suggests.
A drawing in the Albertina, Vienna, corresponds closely in design if not motifs to the left three-quarters of this composition. The sheet may be regarded as another invention of the 1650s that demonstrates Van der Neer's gift for recycling ideas.
[2017; adapted from Liedtke 2007]
Inscription: Signed (lower center): AV DN [monogram]
[Duveen, Paris, London, and New York, until 1907; sold for £9,500 to Morgan]; J. Pierpont Morgan, New York (1907–d. 1913; his estate, 1913–17)
Memphis. Brooks Memorial Art Gallery. "Seventeenth-Century Dutch Paintings from The Metropolitan Museum of Art," May 1–June 23, 1982, no catalogue?
Columbus, Ohio. Columbus Museum of Art. "Seventeenth-Century Dutch Paintings from The Metropolitan Museum of Art," August 28–November 28, 1982, no catalogue?
Hamilton, N.Y. Picker Art Gallery, Colgate University. "Dutch Painting in the Age of Rembrandt from The Metropolitan Museum of Art," February 6–April 17, 1983, no. 6.
Rochester, N.Y. Memorial Art Gallery of the University of Rochester. "Dutch Painting in the Age of Rembrandt from The Metropolitan Museum of Art," May 3–June 5, 1983, no. 6.
Amarillo, Tex. Amarillo Art Center. "Dutch Painting in the Age of Rembrandt from The Metropolitan Museum of Art," June 22–July 31, 1983, no. 6.
New York. Minskoff Cultural Center. "The Golden Ambiance: Dutch Landscape Painting in the Seventeenth Century," May 19–June 2, 1985, no. 8.
Shizuoka Prefectural Museum of Art. "Landscape Painting in the East and West," April 19–June 1, 1986, no. 2.
Kobe City Museum. "Landscape Painting in the East and West," June 7–July 13, 1986, no. 2.
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.
C[ornelis]. Hofstede de Groot. A Catalogue Raisonné of the Works of the Most Eminent Dutch Painters of the Seventeenth Century. Ed. Edward G. Hawke. Vol. 7, London, 1923, p. 345, no. 62, as from the Morgan collection and on loan to the Museum since 1911.
Stephanie Dickey et al. Dutch Painting in the Age of Rembrandt from The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Exh. cat., Picker Art Gallery, Colgate University. Hamilton, N.Y., 1983, pp. 10, 22–23, no. 6, ill., dates it to probably the 1640s.
Walter A. Liedtke. The Golden Ambiance: Dutch Landscape Painting in the Seventeenth Century. Exh. cat., Minskoff Cultural Center. New York, 1985, no. 8, ill. (color), dates it to probably the 1640s.
Esmée Quodbach. "The Age of Rembrandt: Dutch Paintings in The Metropolitan Museum of Art." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 65 (Summer 2007), pp. 35, 37.
Walter Liedtke. Dutch Paintings in The Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York, 2007, vol. 1, pp. 509–10, no. 130, colorpl. 130, favors a dating in the 1650s based on "a variety of stylistic considerations".