In the history of art, some of the most renowned landscape paintings are of the Dutch landscape, by Dutch artists. Due to topography and politics, the Dutch have a very special relationship with their terrain, one that differs from the relationship other Europeans have with their land. After gaining independence from Spain, the Dutch undertook a project to rebuild the land that was almost a century long. Because their land was underwater (hence the name “Netherland”), the Dutch constructed dikes and drainage systems across the countryside. Their efforts led people to develop a deep relationship with the land. Absence of the feudal landowning system was another factor in the Dutch’s relationship with their terrain. The swampy and marshy nature of the land made the feudal landowning system and mass exploitation of the land economically undesirable. Thus, individual families owned and took care of their own plots of land, creating a much more personal relationship with the land as well.
Aelbert Cuyp (1620-1691) established his reputation as a Dutch specialist in landscape painting. He painted many Dutch landscape paintings throughout his career. One such example is Distant View of Dordrecht, with a Milkmaid and Four Cows, and Other Figures.
This painting depicts the Dutch countryside. However, what sets Cuyp’s landscape paintings (and Dutch landscape paintings in general) apart from previous landscape paintings is that the landscapes, unlike the idealized and romantic landscapes painted in many Renaissance paintings, are particularized. The setting of Distant View of Dordrecht, with a Milkmaid and Four Cows, and Other Figures is very particular. In fact, the church in the background of the scene can be identified as the Grote Kerk in Dordrecht. The dairy cows, the shepherd, and the milkmaid represent the cornerstone of Dutch agriculture— the dairy industry. Cuyp accurately painted each detail, giving this landscape painting great credibility.
I think Cuyp beautifully painted his country’s countryside. I can really feel the peacefulness and serenity of this scene. I think that one can tell that this painting is a product of his deep love, appreciation, respect, and understanding of the land.
Below is another Dutch landscape painting by Jacob van Ruisdael…
In View of Haarlem from the Dunes at Overveen, van Ruisdael successfully captured the unique and specific view of the city of Haarlem, with its windmills and the Saint Bavo church. This landscape exudes a feeling of tranquility that is almost spiritual.
Here are a couple landscape paintings by French artists as well…