BERCHEM, Nicolaes
(b. 1620, Haarlem, d. 1683, Amsterdam)

Italian Landscape at Sunset

Oil on canvas
Alte Pinakothek, Munich

Berchem's pictures have a more pronounced pastoral character than Jan Both's or Asselyn's. Shepherds and buxom shepherdesses tending their flocks and herdsmen guarding their cattle receive prominent places in his works. His lively figures are seen in sparkling Italian light among ancient ruins, fording rivers, or set against magnificent panoramic views of vast Italian valleys and mountain ranges. The large scale of his figures often suggests his paintings could be classified as pastoral genre scenes as well as landscapes - the same is true of many of Jan Baptist Weenix's Italianate paintings. Wisps of white cloud float in Berchem's dazzling blue skies, and bits of vividly coloured clothing worn by herders, milkmaids, and travellers brighten the cool greens of his landscapes. His peasants enjoy a life of innocence and happiness among their animals. It is an idyllic dream world which appealed to a public that found Arcadia a refuge from worldly cares and responsibility.

The mood of his pictures justifies the claim that Berchem, who died in I683, the year Watteau was born, is one of the precursors of the Rococo. Berchem's success stimulated a number of close followers. Karel Dujardin was his pupil. The genre painters Pieter de Hooch and Jacob Ochtervelt, artists who soon went their own way, also studied with him.

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