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Cor­nelis Dusart, Dutch, 1660-1704: A Milk Seller Before a House or Inn, c. 1680-90 

In this ani­mat­ed scene, a milk sell­er dis­trib­utes her wares from one of the large buck­ets car­ried to the site on a wood­en beam, now rest­ing across her back. While the present cus­tomer eager­ly awaits her por­tion, a young girl drinks her share from a pitch­er to the rear. Two men dis­cuss the day’s news and a tod­dler, aided by a matron­ly woman, descends the steps to join the excitement. 

The image relates close­ly to Dusart’s ear­li­est dated paint­ing and bears a sim­i­lar com­po­si­tion to a draw­ing by his teacher Adri­aen van Ostade, who also explored the theme of ped­dlers-at-the-door in his work.

This ani­mat­ed scene depicts a woman sell­ing milk in front of a house or inn. Hav­ing set down her two large buck­ets, she uses a small­er jug to dis­trib­ute mea­sured amounts of milk to her cus­tomers. She car­ried the buck­ets on the beam now rest­ing across her back, which is designed to sit on her neck and shoul­ders. Cor­nelis Dusart packed near­ly every cor­ner of this draw­ing with his live­ly visu­al humor. The crouch­ing girl watch­es her pot being filled with great earnest­ness, while anoth­er to the left attempts to sip her recent­ly received share from an over­ly large pitch­er. See­ing an oppor­tu­ni­ty, a dog in front of the buck­et laps up a spill. He was orig­i­nal­ly accom­pa­nied by a cat (the ghost­ly out­line of which can be seen in the black chalk under­draw­ing), but Dusart decid­ed not to include him in the fin­ished work. A matron­ly woman seat­ed on the front steps aids a tod­dler nav­i­gat­ing the steps, attract­ed to the excite­ment of the milk’s arrival. Round­ing out the scene are two men with pipes dis­cussing or dis­put­ing over some sheets of paper (per­haps the news), who obvi­ous­ly take no inter­est in the goings-on around the deliv­ery of milk.

By Dusart’s day, milk­maids had already long served as pop­u­lar sub­jects for Dutch artists.1

They often depict­ed them as young and attrac­tive women, some­times even sex­u­al­ized, as one finds for exam­ple in the Archer and Milk­maid engrav­ing by Jacques de Gheyn II (1565 – 1629).2

Other times, their role as objects of love inter­est can be more sub­tle or inno­cent, as seen in the icon­ic Milk­maid by Lucas van Ley­den (1494 – 1533).3

Willem Buytewech (1591/92 – 1624) took a some­what dif­fer­ent approach, depict­ing a milk­maid from Edam as a means of dis­play­ing her local dress for a series of prints show­ing the region­al fash­ions of young women from the rural work­ing class­es around Hol­land.4

Dusart’s milk car­ri­er, on the other hand, appears more worka­day in her patchy clothes, like­ly older, but in any case anony­mous and seem­ing­ly innocuous.

This work relates close­ly to Dusart’s paint­ing of the sub­ject Fig. 63.1.

Cornelis Dusart, The Milk Seller
Fig. 63.1

Cor­nelis Dusart, The Milk Sell­er, 1679. Oil on panel, 38.8 × 29.5 cm. Birm­ing­ham, Bar­ber Insti­tute of Fine Arts, inv. no. 49.8.

While the draw­ing is undat­ed, the paint­ing bears the year 1679, mak­ing it one of the ear­li­est known works by Dusart. He there­fore paint­ed it when he was only around nine­teen years old, and just before he entered the guild in 1680. Eduard Trautscholdt sur­mised that the paint­ing may have even been Dusart’s mas­ter­piece,” mean­ing (in the orig­i­nal sense of the term) the paint­ing he sub­mit­ted to prove his com­pe­tence for admis­sion into the guild as a mas­ter.5

The draw­ing is not strict­ly prepara­to­ry in nature, but it does reveal the endur­ing influ­ence of his teacher, Adri­aen van Ostade (1610 – 1685), as it fol­lows Van Ostade’s own draw­ing of the sub­ject from some­what ear­li­er Fig. 63.2.6

Adriaen van Ostade (probably retouched by Cornelis Dusart), The Milk Seller
Fig. 63.2

Adri­aen van Ostade (prob­a­bly retouched by Cor­nelis Dusart), The Milk Sell­er, c. 1660– 70. Pen and brown ink, with gray and brown wash­es over graphite on paper, 238 × 208 mm. Paris, Fon­da­tion Cus­to­dia, Col­lec­tion Frits Lugt, inv. no. 2145.

Bern­hard Schnack­en­burg point­ed out that Dusart prob­a­bly retouched Van Ostade’s draw­ing, adding wash­es and per­haps rein­forc­ing some of the lines, some­thing Dusart did to a num­ber of Van Ostade’s draw­ings after the lat­ter’s death in 1685.7

Van Ostade was still alive, how­ev­er, when Dusart drew the present sheet, if it indeed dates to around the same time he made the paint­ing. One assumes that Dusart would have had easy access to Van Ostade’s draw­ing while still atten­dant in his mas­ter’s work­shop around 1679. Dusart bor­rowed the basic com­po­si­tion of Van Ostade’s draw­ing, includ­ing the pri­ma­ry motif of the bent-over milk­maid, as well as a num­ber of his aux­il­iary fig­ures, such as the crouch­ing girl receiv­ing her milk, the dog, and the tod­dler descend­ing the steps. For his paint­ing, how­ev­er, Dusart changed sev­er­al mem­bers of this cast of char­ac­ters, but retained his own inven­tion of the girl with the jug to the left, accom­pa­nied by what appears to be a younger sib­ling. Ulti­mate­ly, both the draw­ing and paint­ing by Dusart pay homage to Van Ostade’s take on the milk­maid as sub­ject mat­ter, cel­e­brat­ing the salu­bri­ous nature of vil­lage life in a light­heart­ed fash­ion, and fur­ther explor­ing the ped­dlers-at-the-door theme that both artists took up in a great num­ber of their works.

End Notes

  1. For overviews of the milk­maid in Dutch art, see espe­cial­ly New York 2009a, dis­cussing Ver­meer’s famous paint­ing of the same name, which, it should be noted, does not actu­al­ly depict a milk­maid or dairy work­er but rather an urban kitchen ser­vant; as well as G. Lui­jten in Ams­ter­dam 1997, 260 – 63, no. 52.

  2. Andries Stock, after Jacques de Gheyn II, Archer and Milk­maid, engrav­ing, 413 × 329 mm; see W. Liedtke in New York 2009a, 15; G. Lui­jten in Ams­ter­dam 1997, 129 – 32, no. 21; and (for the relat­ed draw­ing) Robin­son 2016, 145 – 47, no. 40.

  3. New Holl­stein (Lucas van Ley­den), no. 158; Wash­ing­ton & Boston 1983, 88 – 89, no. 26; and I. M. Veld­man in Lei­den 2011, 247, no. 46. Clos­er to Dusart’s time is a paint­ing attrib­uted to Nico­laes Maes (Rus­tic Lovers, c. 1658 – 59, oil on wood, 69.8 × 90.3 cm, Philadel­phia Muse­um of Art, inv. no. 485), for which see W. Liedtke in New York 2009a, 11.

  4. Gillis van Scheyn­del after Willem Buytewech, Woman from Edam, engrav­ing, 195 × 140 mm; see Haverkamp-Bege­mann 1959, 187, no. CP4.

  5. Trautscholdt 1966, 176 – 77.

  6. Schnack­en­burg 1981, 107, no. 132.

  7. Schnack­en­burg 1981, 107, no. 132. For Dusart’s retouch­ing of Van Ostade’s draw­ings gen­er­al­ly, see Schnack­en­burg 1981, 60 – 61; and Ander­son 2015. Most of the retouch­ings prob­a­bly took place after Dusart inher­it­ed Van Ostade’s stu­dio remains in 1685.