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Dutch Landscapes: Paintings from the Royal Collection

12 November 2011 – 11 March 2012

From the museum press release, 19 October 2011

Dutch Landscapes: Paintings from the Royal Collection, which goes on show at The Bowes Museum, Barnard Castle, in November, brings together 38 remarkable works from the ‘golden age’ of Dutch painting, generously lent by Her Majesty The Queen.

The exhibition, which opens on Saturday 12 November, draws on the Royal Collection’s rich holdings of Dutch 17th century landscapes, presenting outstanding examples by the great masters of landscape, including Jacob van Ruisdael, Aelbert Cuyp, Jan van der Heyden and Meyndert Hobbema.

By the 17th century, landscape painting was well established as a distinct art form and one in which Netherlandish artists excelled. Artists turned to the countryside and to the sea to convey a pride in their homeland – the newly formed Dutch United Provinces – following the Eighty Years War with Spain. As the foundation of trade and empire, the sea was the most important force in Dutch life, and its importance is manifest in the large number of marine artists active at this time.

The fine detail and the meticulous finish of the paintings held particular appeal for British tastes, and a majority of the works in the exhibition were later acquired by King George IV when Prince Regent between 1809-1820.

The ability of Netherlandish artists to depict mood and emotion through their work also inspired and influenced the great British landscape painters John Constable and J M W Turner. Constable admired the ‘acres of sky expressed’ in Ruisdael’s 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.”

While many Dutch painters found inspiration in their immediate surroundings, others travelled to Italy in pursuit of mountainous vistas and golden light. Since the early 16th century there had been a colony of northern artists in a small quarter of Rome, immediately inside the Porta del Popolo – the setting of Figures before a Locanda, by Johannes Lingelbach.

The Royal Collection contains an outstanding group of works by Aelbert Cuyp, the most poetic of all Dutch landscape artists. His works are imbued with an extraordinary luminosity and spectrum of light that sets them apart from those of other 17th century Dutch landscape artists. The earliest painting in the group, Cows in a Pasture Beside a River, before Ruins, may have been intended as a celebration of the end of the war and the anticipated benefits of peace.

Aelbert Cuyp never ventured to the Mediterranean, but saw Italy through the works of his contemporaries. In his Evening Landscape with Figures and Sheep, the distinctly Dutch terrain is bathed in the warm colours and soft tones of Italy.

The exhibition, which runs until Sunday 11 March 2012, is accompanied by the catalogue Dutch Landscapes by Desmond Shawe-Taylor, with contributions by Jennifer Scott (Royal Collection Publications, 176 pages, 110 colour illustrations).