QUEEN'S GALLERY, TO OCTOBER 9 Such was the strength and variety of the Dutch 17th-century landscape painters that all subsequent landscape painting has been influenced directly or indirectly by them. The fine detail and meticulous finish of Dutch landscapes appealed to British taste. Constable admired the “acres of sky expressed” in Ruisdael’s tranquil Evening Landscape: A Windmill by a Stream, and on seeing a seascape by Willem van de Velde the Younger, Turner remarked: “Ah! That made me a painter”. In the 17th-century landscape painting emerged as a major art to which, with Claude Lorraine, Holland made the greatest contribution.
The Mannerist landscape formula of 16th-century Flemish art had established a high horizon, often filled by imaginary mountains, with distance indicated by tones of colour – brown foreground, green for middle distance, blue background. Coninxloo, a Flemish artist who had worked in Germany, was the principal link, bringing this convention to Holland when he settled in Amsterdam in 1596. Esias van de Velde developed the realistic approach to Dutch scenery by lowering the horizon, eliminating artificial colour and giving the whole a new sense of perspective and atmosphere. Van de Velde’s pupil, Jan van Goyen, began painting in the 1620s in a style similar to that of his master but in the 1630s he developed a monochrome technique with fine tonal effects and limited local colour. He gradually eliminated the mannered features from his compositions and developed the atmospheric effects of light. His simple, poetic landscapes, whose charm derived from their fidelity to nature, brought Dutch landscape painting into maturity.
The Royal Collections are strong in Dutch 17th-century art and that is due to the Prince Regent who acquired Dutch landscapes for Carlton House in 1816. Thirty-four of the 42 paintings in this exhibition were acquired by him between 1809 and 1820, 21 of them from a single sale. Desmond Shawe-Taylor suggests in the catalogue that the Prince Regent’s interest in Dutch landscape probably reflected recent French taste, and “complemented rather than contrasted with his love of French furniture and Sėvres porcelain”. The collecting of the Prince Regent, the most prolific collector in British royal history, is celebrated in a second exhibition at the Queen’s Gallery marking the 200th anniversary of the Regency Act of 1811. It suggests the settings in which these Dutch pictures hung.
Divided invisibly into five sections – the expressive landscape, landmarks and symbols, ships and the sea, Rome, and contrasting landscapes – the entire conspectus of Dutch landscape painting is presented. The Dutch had an interest in landscape painting which went beyond the depiction of their beloved countryside – hence the popularity of Alpine panoramas, Scandinavian forests, and especially landscapes inspired by the sunlit Italian Campagna. Among the Dutch Ital ianate painters Philips Wouvermans, Berchem, the Boths, Karel Dujardin, and Jan Asselyn are best known. Many of these artists were based in Utrecht, the centre of Italian influence in Holland, particularly through the work of Abraham Bloemaert, whose work in unrepresented in the Royal Collection. Cuyp began painting in the early monochrome style of Van Goyen, and gradually introduced a warm, golden light into his pictures, making an Italian sun shine over Dutch scenery, as we see in An Evening Landscape with Figures and Sheep. He was a highly versatile artist, who specialised in putting horses and cattle into his landscapes. His style was influential among English artists, particularly those of the Norwich School.
The group of landscapes by Cuyp in the Royal Collection are of such range and quality as to justify a final section being devoted exclusively to the master. This, Shawe-Taylor tells us, “is partly because of the special enthusiasm for Cuyp in England in the Regency period, witnessed by the pride of place offered to his work in the interiors at Carlton House: the Passage Boat hung in the Blue Velvet Room and the Cavalry Trooper in the Blue Velvet Closet.” Turner, lecturing on “Backgrounds” to the students of the Royal Academy in 1811, commented that Cuyp had “a judgment so truly qualified, knew where to lend minutiae in all the golden colour of ancient vapour”. His landscapes have a greater range than those of other masters. Marine painting followed the development of landscape and forms one of the most interesting parts of this exhibition, especially in the depiction of ropes and rigging. Willem van der Velde the Younger was one of its greatest masters and stands far above other marine artists bar his contemporary, Jan van der Capelle.
This exemplary exhibition represents the main themes and painters of the golden age of Dutch painting and makes an ideal companion to the tercentenary of the Regency.
Anthony Symondson SJ