Choose a background colour

Ael­bert Cuyp, Dutch, 1620-1691: Five Studies of Recumbent Sheep, c. 1646 

Ael­bert Cuyp cre­at­ed this study sheet of rest­ing sheep direct­ly from life using black chalk, touch­es of dilut­ed ink, and chalk mixed with seed oil, skill­ful­ly applied in bold accents. It like­ly belonged to one of his many sketch­books, now dis­man­tled, kept in his stu­dio for use in fin­ished com­po­si­tions. For instance, three high­ly indi­vid­u­al­ized sheep from this draw­ing are fea­tured in a land­scape paint­ing depict­ing a shep­herd and his flock, now in Frank­furt. The Peck sheet and anoth­er in Berlin appear to be the artist’s only sur­viv­ing study draw­ings of sheep, mak­ing it an espe­cial­ly rare exam­ple among Cuyp’s pro­lif­ic artis­tic production.

The excep­tion­al­ly well-pre­served media on this sheet bril­liant­ly con­vey Ael­bert Cuyp’s orig­i­nal range of tone, from his rich­ly dark oiled-chalk accents to his swift, sub­tle addi­tions in gray wash. With obvi­ous rel­ish, Cuyp impart­ed a sense of indi­vid­ual per­son­al­i­ty to many of these sheep, which were obvi­ous­ly stud­ied from life. Traces of an out­line of a sixth sheep are vis­i­ble in the upper right cor­ner, but it was aban­doned, per­haps for rea­sons of space.

This draw­ing relates close­ly to anoth­er of near­ly iden­ti­cal size in Berlin depict­ing seven recum­bent sheep in a sim­i­lar vari­ety of pos­tures Fig. 25.1.1

Aelbert Cuyp, Group of Seven Sheep
Fig. 25.1

Ael­bert Cuyp, Group of Seven Sheep. Black chalk, oiled black chalk, and gray wash on paper, 154 × 203 mm. Berlin, Kupfer­stichk­abi­nett, inv. no. KdZ 5314.

Both like­ly came from one of Cuyp’s many sketch­books, though none remain intact today. The major­i­ty of his sur­viv­ing draw­ings are fin­ished land­scapes in color that he no doubt made for the col­lec­tors’ mar­ket, many of which reveal his trav­els around the Rhine and other regions in the Nether­lands and Ger­many.2

Study sheets like these, how­ev­er, com­pose an impor­tant part of his oeu­vre, since a num­ber of the ani­mals he drew sub­se­quent­ly made their way into his paint­ings. Cuyp often com­bined mul­ti­ple such stud­ies for the cre­ation of his paint­ings, inte­grat­ing var­i­ous fig­ures or ani­mals with­in a land­scape from one of his jour­neys.3

The present sheet pro­vid­ed source mate­r­i­al for Cuyp’s paint­ing in Frank­furt depict­ing a shep­herd and his flock. The three sheep in the fore­ground have been lift­ed direct­ly, though some­what rearranged, from the left­most three in the draw­ing Fig. 25.2.4

Aelbert Cuyp, Flock of Sheep in a Pasture
Fig. 25.2

Ael­bert Cuyp, Flock of Sheep in a Pas­ture, c. 1645 – 55. Oil on panel, 49.3 × 74.3 cm. Frank­furt, Städel Muse­um, inv. no. 1107.

Although he worked in a vari­ety of gen­res, Cuyp is par­tic­u­lar­ly known for his sun-drenched land­scapes that dis­close a peace­ful and even dreamy world, a type that was pop­u­lar with his elite Dutch patrons and even more so with British col­lec­tors and artists in the eigh­teenth cen­tu­ry.5

Sheep tra­di­tion­al­ly play a quin­tes­sen­tial role in such idyl­lic imagery, as do the req­ui­site shep­herd and his flock. In Cuyp’s case, how­ev­er, most of his ani­mal stud­ies depict cows, a pro­por­tion that was in keep­ing with his over­whelm­ing pref­er­ence for cat­tle in his paint­ings. This sheet and the one in Berlin appear to be his only sur­viv­ing study draw­ings of sheep.6

While Cuyp almost cer­tain­ly kept these stud­ies for his own use, he did issue some relat­ed etch­ings by his own hand (though only of cows) that were prob­a­bly based on sim­i­lar stu­dio-held draw­ings.7

In the issu­ing of his ani­mal study draw­ings in print, Cuyp pos­si­bly took inspi­ra­tion from his own father, Jacob Ger­rit­sz Cuyp (1594 – 1652), who designed an inno­v­a­tive print series devot­ed specif­i­cal­ly to such ani­mal stud­ies, the Diver­sa Ani­malia Quadru­pe­dia from 1641 Fig. 25.3. 8

Jacob Gerritsz Cuyp, Pasture with a Sheep and Two Lambs
Fig. 25.3

Jacob Ger­rit­sz Cuyp, Pas­ture with a Sheep and Two Lambs, from the series Diver­sa Ani­malia Quadru­pe­dia, 1641. Etch­ing on paper, 130 × 195 mm. Ams­ter­dam, Rijksmu­se­um, inv. no. rp-p-1889-a-15086.

The dat­ing of Cuyp’s paint­ings and draw­ings has proven dif­fi­cult.9

Jan van Gelder and Ingrid Jost sug­gest­ed a date of circa 1646 – 48 for the present work when it was exhib­it­ed as part of the Van Regteren Alte­na Col­lec­tion, based on the then-esti­mat­ed date of the Frank­furt paint­ing in the early 1650s.10

In his dis­ser­ta­tion on the artist, Alan Chong sug­gest­ed that the paint­ing might instead be the work of Cuyp’s devot­ed pupil and imi­ta­tor, Abra­ham van Cal­raet (1642 – 1722), not­ing in par­tic­u­lar that the sheep are awk­ward­ly defined and sit clum­si­ly in the land­scape.“11

In the Städel’s col­lec­tion cat­a­logue, how­ev­er, León Krem­pel argued strong­ly in favor of restor­ing the author­ship to Cuyp and widened, in the process, the painting’s date range to circa 1645 – 55.12

Nei­ther Chong nor Krem­pel seem to have been aware of the Peck draw­ing, then in the pos­ses­sion of the heirs of Van Regteren Alte­na, but its clear rela­tion­ship to the Frank­furt panel argues in favor of an attri­bu­tion of that paint­ing to Cuyp. It remains pos­si­ble that Cal­raet or some other pupil had access to the master’s draw­ings, but what­ev­er slight clum­si­ness the sheep in the paint­ing pos­sess might best be ascribed to their lit­er­al repro­duc­tion from the draw­ing. Van Gelder sug­gest­ed that anoth­er paint­ing by Cuyp made use of this draw­ing, a land­scape in Dul­wich dated circa 1641, though the rela­tion­ship in this case is far less clear.13

Cuyp seems to have given up his trade around 1660 short­ly after he mar­ried into the patri­cian class. One likes to imag­ine that he con­tin­ued to appre­ci­ate his own stock of draw­ings for the remain­ing thir­ty years of his life, espe­cial­ly given the pre­ci­sion and beau­ty that one sees here. The artist’s early biog­ra­ph­er, Arnold Houbrak­en (1660 – 1719), who grew up in Dor­drecht and prob­a­bly knew him per­son­al­ly, report­ed that after his death no draw­ings or mod­els by any other artist were to be found in his col­lec­tion, a tes­ta­ment, so he wrote, to Cuyp’s com­mit­ment to study only from nature.14

End Notes

  1. Bock & Rosen­berg 1930, vol. 1, 112, no. 5314.

  2. For an overview of Cuyp’s draw­ings, see E. Haverkamp-Bege­mann in Wash­ing­ton, Lon­don & Paris 2001 – 02, 75 – 85 (focus­ing more on the land­scapes); as well as the entries on the draw­ings by W. Kloek in idem, 214 – 91; and the entries by J. G. van Gelder in Dor­drecht 1977 – 78, 112 – 77. Jan Leja is prepar­ing a cat­a­logue raison­né of Cuyp’s draw­ings based on the pre­vi­ous research of Van Gelder and Ingrid Jost begun in the 1960s, and fur­thered by Haverkamp-Begemann.

  3. For an overview of Cuyp’s use of draw­ings for his paint­ings, see A. K. Whee­lock in Wash­ing­ton & Paris 2016 – 17, 194 – 201, nos. 81 – 87; and P. Schat­born in Ams­ter­dam & Wash­ing­ton 1981 – 82, 120 – 22.

  4. Krem­pel 2005, 96 – 100; and Reiss 1975, 169, no. 126. The rela­tion­ship between the draw­ing and paint­ing was first point­ed out by J. Giltaij in Rot­ter­dam, Paris & Brus­sels 1976 – 77, 26 – 27, no. 44.

  5. A. Chong in Wash­ing­ton, Lon­don & Paris 2001 – 02, 35 – 51.

  6. With thanks to Jan Leja for con­firm­ing this point.

  7. Holl­stein, vol. 5 (Ael­bert Cuyp), nos. 1 – 6; see C. S. Ack­ley in Boston & St. Louis 1980 – 81, 207 – 08, no. 140.

  8. Holl­stein, vol. 5 (Jacob Ger­rit­sz Cuyp), nos. 11 – 23.

  9. For an attempt at a chronol­o­gy of Cuyp’s paint­ings, see Reiss 1975, 7 – 12; and the remarks in Chong 1992, 253 – 62. For a rough chronol­o­gy of Cuyp’s draw­ings, see E. Haverkamp-Bege­mann in Wash­ing­ton, Lon­don & Paris 2001 – 02, 75 – 85.

  10. Rot­ter­dam, Paris & Brus­sels 1976 – 77, 26 – 27, no. 44 (note 2, cit­ing a 1976 let­ter from Van Gelder & Jost); the sug­gest­ed date of the paint­ing hav­ing just been pub­lished in Reiss 1975, 169, no. 126.

  11. Chong 1992, 448, no. C7.

  12. Krem­pel 2005, 96 – 100.

  13. Reiss 1975Van Gelder in Dor­drecht 1977 – 78, 158 – 59, no. 63. For the paint­ing in Dul­wich, see Jonker & Bergvelt 2016, 59 – 60, no. DPG4 (with a date of circa 1641); Chong 1992, 314 – 15, no. 68; and Reiss 1975, 75, no. 42 (with a date of circa 1646). While the Dul­wich paint­ing indeed appears to be in Cuyp’s early style, Jonker and Bergvelt’s sug­gest­ed date of circa 1641 is appar­ent­ly based on Cuyp’s pre­sumed trip to Rhenen that year, a draw­ing from which he used for the back­ground. The panel could plau­si­bly be placed a few years later. For a dis­cus­sion of the draw­ing of Rhenen used for the back­ground (Haar­lem, Teylers Muse­um), see Plomp 1997, 116 – 17, no. 98.

  14. Houbrak­en 1718 – 21, vol. 1, 249.