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Adri­aen van de Velde, Dutch, 1636-1672: Study of a Hut or Sheepfold, c. 1671 

Adri­aen van de Velde main­tained a week­ly draw­ing prac­tice in the coun­try­side through­out his life­time as an artist. Despite this, only a few of his land­scape draw­ings cre­at­ed out­doors sur­vive, mak­ing this an impor­tant sheet. It depicts a ram­shackle hut, or sheep­fold, built for shel­ter­ing sheep or other live­stock. Van de Velde con­veys the beau­ty of this com­mon­place sub­ject through his expert appli­ca­tion of black chalk and wash to sug­gest the effects of nat­ur­al sun­light on the rus­tic sur­round­ings. The artist sub­se­quent­ly used this, and other draw­ings, for a famous paint­ing now in the Rijksmu­se­um, Ams­ter­dam, pro­vid­ing us impor­tant insight into his work­ing methods.

Adri­aen van de Velde was one of the most com­mit­ted and bril­liant drafts­men of his day, pos­sess­ing a remark­able facil­i­ty with just about every type of draw­ing media in use at the time.1

This sheet dis­plays Van de Velde’s abil­i­ty to vivid­ly con­vey nat­ur­al sun­light effects by sim­ply using black chalk and wash, seen and even felt here in the gleam­ing radi­ance of the hut on an obvi­ous­ly bright day. The long, bent shad­ow cast by the fore­ground tree on the rooftop is a vir­tu­osic touch that gives a strong sense of the height and angle of the sun. This hut, or sheep­fold (schaap­skooi), like­ly appealed to Van de Velde for its ram­shackle and authen­ti­cal­ly rus­tic char­ac­ter, a struc­ture not intend­ed for human habi­ta­tion but for stor­age or for shel­ter­ing sheep or other live­stock. The image gives every appear­ance of hav­ing been drawn from life. We learn from Arnold Houbrak­en (1660 – 1719) that Van de Velde made a week­ly life­long prac­tice of tak­ing his equip­ment into the coun­try­side to make draw­ings, an anec­dote report­ed to the biog­ra­ph­er by the artist’s daugh­ter.2

One can imag­ine that a draw­ing like this result­ed from one of those sojourns. Despite his pro­lif­ic drawn out­put, a draw­ing of this type nev­er­the­less remains extreme­ly rare in his oeu­vre.3

Though a large num­ber of Van de Velde’s ani­mal and fig­ures stud­ies from life are known among his over 200 sur­viv­ing draw­ings, only a pre­cious few of his land­scape stud­ies that appear to have been drawn out­doors have come down to us.4

This draw­ing holds a spe­cial place in Van de Velde’s cor­pus for its rar­i­ty as a land­scape study and for its use for one of the artist’s most famous paint­ings, The Hut, dated 1671 Fig. 56.1.5

Adriaen van de Velde, The Hut
Fig. 56.1

Adri­aen van de Velde, The Hut, 1671. Oil on can­vas, 76 × 65 cm. Ams­ter­dam, Rijksmu­se­um, inv. no. SK-A-443.

The Rijksmu­se­um acquired the paint­ing in 1822, quite early in its insti­tu­tion­al his­to­ry, pay­ing the then-enor­mous sum of 8,290 guilders, mak­ing it one of the most expen­sive paint­ings of the day.6

The direc­tor of the muse­um at the time, Cor­nelis Apos­tool, called it one of the great­est of all fruits brought forth by the Dutch School,” not­ing in par­tic­u­lar its real­ism and out­stand­ing sense of drafts­man­ship.7

No fewer than five draw­ings sur­vive that served in some capac­i­ty as stud­ies for the paint­ing, and they prove use­ful for under­stand­ing Van de Velde’s process.8

He drew a life study in red chalk of the woman hold­ing a bas­ket, from which he took a coun­ter­proof (prob­a­bly by wet­ting a piece of paper and rub­bing it on the orig­i­nal, or by run­ning it through a print­ing press) that reversed her direc­tion, to give the ori­en­ta­tion seen in the paint­ing. Both the orig­i­nal and coun­ter­proof sur­vive.9

He also drew two red chalk stud­ies of the ani­mals in the fore­ground, one of which includes the woman among them Fig. 56.2.10

Adriaen van de Velde, Shepherdess with Sheep
Fig. 56.2

Adri­aen van de Velde, Shep­herdess with Sheep, 1671. Red chalk over a sketch in graphite or black chalk, 193 × 298 mm. Ams­ter­dam, Ams­ter­dam Muse­um, C. J. Fodor Bequest, inv. no. TA 10345.

When he used the present draw­ing to add the hut to the paint­ing, Van de Velde removed the dog and added a few touch­es of foliage to the tree. He changed lit­tle else except to make the tim­bers around the door stand just slight­ly more upright, per­haps to lend a greater air of sta­bil­i­ty to the struc­ture in the paint­ing. Given how close­ly these draw­ings relate to the paint­ing, it seems rea­son­able to date them around the same time as the can­vas. Van de Velde was known to recy­cle some of the motifs from his stud­ies from time to time (as did other artists), and it is pos­si­ble that some of these sheets date some­what ear­li­er, though no other paint­ing with a sim­i­lar hut has come to light.11

The set­ting for the paint­ing appears to be in the high dunes along the North Sea coast, per­haps out­side of Haar­lem or The Hague, where such short bristly trees are found. The hut in the Peck draw­ing, how­ev­er, could have been found through­out the land. Anoth­er draw­ing in the Rijk­sprentenk­abi­net of a hut or sheep­fold by Van de Velde depicts a sim­i­lar struc­ture from a dif­fer­ent angle Fig. 56.3.12

Adriaen van de Velde, A Hut in the Woods
Fig. 56.3

Adri­aen van de Velde, A Hut in the Woods, c. 1646 – 72. Black chalk, brush and gray and black ink, height­ened in places with white body color, 184 × 291 mm. Ams­ter­dam, Rijksmu­se­um, Rijk­sprentenk­abi­net, inv. no. RP-T-1902-A-4603.

This draw­ing seems more like a fin­ished work com­posed in the stu­dio than a study from life.13

Van de Velde’s choice to con­vey the beau­ty of a dilap­i­dat­ed struc­ture in these works marks the tail end of an appre­ci­a­tion of the pic­turesque” (schilder­achtig) in con­tem­po­rary art the­o­ry.14

Such an empha­sis on the com­mon­place fea­tured heav­i­ly in the sev­en­teenth-cen­tu­ry Dutch land­scape tra­di­tion, but soon dis­ap­peared in favor of more ide­al­ized and syl­van evo­ca­tions of nature and its rus­tic inhabitants.

End Notes

  1. While there is no over­ar­ch­ing study or cat­a­logue of his cor­pus of draw­ings of over 200 sheets, for the two major stud­ies of his draw­ings, see Robin­son 1979 (for the prepara­to­ry draw­ings, cat­a­logu­ing fifty-six works); and Eeren­beemd 2006 (for the Ital­ian­iz­ing land­scapes, cat­a­logu­ing sixty-five works). For an intro­duc­tion to Van de Velde’s life and art gen­er­al­ly, see B. Cor­nelis in Ams­ter­dam & Lon­don 2016 – 17, 11 – 39; and for a con­cise con­sid­er­a­tion of his prepara­to­ry draw­ings, see W. W. Robin­son in Wash­ing­ton & Paris 2016 – 17, 254 – 59, nos. 115 – 17.

  2. Houbrak­en 1718 – 21, vol. 3, 90 – 91.

  3. Robin­son 1979, 4 – 5, 18 (nos. A1 – A3).

  4. In terms of prepara­to­ry stud­ies, Robin­son cat­a­logued only two other plein air land­scape draw­ings aside from the present sheet. The first is in the Fodor Col­lec­tion, Ams­ter­dam Muse­um (inv. no. A10348), for which see Robin­son 1979, 18, no. A1; Broos & Schapel­houman 1993, 180, no. 137; and W. W. Robin­son in Wash­ing­ton & Paris 2016 – 17, 256, no. 116. The sec­ond is in the Kupfer­stichk­abi­nett, Berlin (inv. no. 3858), for which see Robin­son 1979, 18, no. A2; and Bock & Rosen­berg 1930, vol. 1, 293, no. 3858.

  5. For the paint­ing, see M. Schapel­houman in Ams­ter­dam & Lon­don 2016 – 17, 141 – 47, no. 30, with fur­ther references.

  6. Schat­born 1975, 159.

  7. Schapel­houman in Ams­ter­dam & Lon­don 2016 – 17, 141.

  8. For the essen­tial study of these draw­ings, includ­ing the present sheet, and how they relate to the paint­ing, see Schat­born 1975. See also Ams­ter­dam & Wash­ing­ton 1981 – 82, 116 – 17; and Robin­son 1979, nos. A-3, D-17, D-18, D-24.

  9. Schat­born 1975, 161 – 62, figs. 2 – 3; Robin­son 1979, 22, no. D-17; and Ams­ter­dam & Lon­don 2016 – 17, 147, no. 34, fi g. 150.

  10. Schat­born 1975, 162, fi g. 4; Robin­son 1979, 22, no. D – 18; Broos & Schapel­houman 1993, 187 – 88, no. 143; and Ams­ter­dam & Lon­don 2016 – 17, 144, no. 32.

  11. For the recy­cling of his study draw­ings, see, for exam­ple, Robin­son 1979, 23, no. D-24.

  12. Ams­ter­dam, Rijksmu­se­um, inv. no. rpt-1902-a-4603. For this draw­ing, see Schapel­houman & Schat­born 1987, no. 69; M. Schapel­houman in Van­cou­ver 2009, 136 – 37; and idem in Ams­ter­dam & Lon­don 2016 – 17, 173 – 75, no. 45.

  13. But see F. Robin­son in Chapel Hill, Itha­ca & Worces­ter, 1999 – 2001, 102 – 03, no. 34, who sug­gests, by con­trast, that the Rijksmu­se­um draw­ing (in note above) was made from life and used to pre­pare the present sheet.

  14. For this type of rus­tic struc­ture in Dutch art and its place in con­tem­po­rary art the­o­ry, see Gib­son 2000, 141 – 72.