Sunday, December 04, 2016

Arcadian Landscape with Resting Shepherds and Animals

 Adriaen van de Velde, Arcadian Landscape with Resting Shepherds and Animals, 1664
Source: Wikimedia Commons

I feel in need of a little escapism at the moment, so I went down to Dulwich to look round the exhibition Adriaen van de Velde: Dutch Master of Landscape.  His drawings and paintings are so detailed that you feel you could disappear into them, although quite where you would then be I am not sure: a landscape that isn't quite Holland or Italy.  His pastoral scenes are bathed in warm Mediterranean sunlight but their animals, shepherdesses and herdsmen look as if they are enjoying unusually fine weather, surrounded by verdant trees under high Dutch skies.  The exhibition shows how carefully composed these landscapes were, with rough ideas sketched in the open air and detailed preparatory drawings done back in the studio.  However, Van de Velde also painted recognisable views, including several of the beach at Scheveningen.  I always think Scheveningen looks like quite an unprepossessing place in old paintings, but the sheer concentration of artists working nearby turned it into something more significant (culminating in 1881 in the Mesdag Panorama - see my earlier post on this). In the video clip embedded below the curator, Bart Cornelis, talks about these Scheveningen paintings in more detail, commenting in particular on their figures.

Adriaen van de Velde, The Beach at Scheveningen, 1658
Source: Wikimedia Commons

I have reported here several times on exhibitions whose curators make much of changing tastes, particularly the rediscovery of previously undervalued painters (for example Peder Balke or Francis Towne).  In the case of Van de Velde, the tone is more of surprise that these charming but hardly spectacular paintings were so highly valued in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.  Among collectors there was a particular desire for Van de Velde's rare 'coloured drawings', unusual sketches done painstakingly with the end of a brush in muted shades.  In 1833 the Teylers Museum paid a huge sum, 1730 guilders, for one of these, Landscape with livestock crossing a river.  As you can see below, there are parts of it like the foreground reeds that have the delicacy of a Chinese ink painting. It could be said that the smaller the works, the more impressive Van de Velde is -  a couple of larger paintings in the final room are not very appealing.  I was particularly taken with one small painting that is said to look surprisingly modern, Figures in a Deer Park, from the 1660s.  It is hard to convey just how beautiful these trees are - realistic and poetic at the same time - a little reminiscent of Corot.  Looking at it I found myself thinking how pleasant it would be to escape 2016 with its relentlessly bad news headlines and wander instead into this tranquil scene.
Adriaen van de Velde, Landscape with livestock crossing a river, 1666
Teylers Museum, Haarlem
Source: Art History News

Adriaen van de Velde, Figures in a Deer Park, c.1665
The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, The Edward and Sally Speelman Collection
Source: Art Daily 

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