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

Peasants with Cattle by a Ruined Aqueduct

c. 1658
Oil on wood, 47 x 39 cm
National Gallery, London

Nicolaes Berchem, the son of a distinguished still-life painter, Pieter Claesz., was born in Haarlem. The town was a leading centre of landscape painting in the early seventeenth century and among Berchem's teachers was the landscapist Jan van Goyen. Like many Dutch artists, Berchem travelled to Italy immediately after completing his apprenticeship. He was in Rome late in 1642 and remained there for three years. While in Italy, Berchem made many drawings of the landscape of the Roman Campagna, its cattle and peasants.

On his return to Haarlem Berchem quarried this rich material throughout a long and extremely productive career, painting (and etching) hundreds of Italianate pastoral scenes. As is evident from this painting, he interpreted the Italian landscape and the life of its peasants in an idyllic manner, emphasizing its timeless continuity by the inclusion of antique monuments. These buildings cannot be identified, as they are only loosely modelled on actual ruins. Berchem uses a bright, highly-coloured palette and applies the paint in short, stabbing brush strokes.

In seventeenth-century Holland there was a constant demand for exotic landscapes of this type and Berchem was a highly successful artist. He moved to Amsterdam, which had a larger art market than Haarlem, in about 1677. His work was widely imitated and copied during his lifetime and his paintings enthusiastically sought after in France in the eighteenth century and in England in the nineteenth. This painting, having been in the distinguished Amsterdam collection of Gerrit Braamcamp in the mid-eighteenth century, was bought in Paris by the Duc de Chabot in 1780 and in London in 1840 by Sir Robert Peel.

© Web Gallery of Art, created by Emil Krén and Daniel Marx.