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Aert van der Neer

A River Landscape with a Castle and a Village at Sunset

Aert van der Neer

Signed in monogram, lower left: AV DN
Oil on panel, 18¾ X 28 ins. (47.5 x 71.3 cm)

VP4810

Provenance

Lord Ashburnham (according to a label on the reverse)
Thadée Joseph Antoine Hyacinthe van Saceghem (1767-1852), Ghent
His sale, Brussels, Le Roy, 2 June1851, lot 69, for 1,400 Francs
Christophe van Loo, Ghent (his wax seal affixed to the reverse)
His posthumous sale, Paris, Le Roy, 25 May 1881, lot 19, for 9,100 Francs
Eugène Secrétan (1836-99), Paris
With Charles Sedelmeyer, Paris, by 1895 (not included in the Secrétan auction at Sedelmeyer Galleries,
1 July 1889)
Albert Lehmann, Paris
His sale, Paris, Galerie Georges Petit, 12 June 1925, lot 268
With Alfred Brod, London, by 1958
Julius Löwenstein, London
With Gebr. Douwes, Amsterdam, by 2002

Literature

C. Sedelmeyer, Catalogue of the second hundred of paintings by Old Masters, 1895, p. 31, cat. no. 26 (reproduced)
C. Hofstede de Groot, A catalogue raisonné …, vol. VII, London 1923, p. 358, cat. no. 116
W. Schulz, Aert van der Neer, Doornspijk 2002, p. 412, cat. no. 1146 (reproduced in colour), plate 60 and fig. 129.

Exhibited

London, Alfred Brod Gallery, Annual Spring Exhibition of Old Masters.  Dutch and Flemish paintings from 1490-1710, 11 April – 10 May 1958, no. 14. 

Essay

Aert van der Neer is chiefly famous for his moonlit landscapes.  Although he was not the first painter to attempt to capture the special effects of moonlight, he made it his speciality and brought the genre to a new highpoint.  Yet his preoccupation with unusual lighting effects was not confined solely to the hours of darkness, but included other times of the day as well, especially dawn and dusk.  Van der Neer also painted winter landscapes and a few nocturnes in which the only source of light is a conflagration in one of the buildings on the riverbank. 

In this serenely beautiful painting, van der Neer depicts a wide river landscape.  On the right, an expanse of water, dotted with sailing boats, flows gently towards the horizon.  A village with a prominent castle rises on the left.  The day is done and darkness is descending, however, the warm rosy tints reflected light in the clouds and diffused throughout the landscape, and the small glimmers of light captured in the sails of a boat, or the windows of building, attest to the recent departure of the sun.  Under the waning light, the darkened forms of three cows at the water’s edge, two figures resting on a small bank in the foreground and the dead stump of a tree stand out boldly.  An intensely poetic mood prevails. 

Although van der Neer became one of the most important landscapists of the Dutch Golden Age, virtually nothing is known of his artistic training.  The artists’ biographer Arnold Houbraken mentions only that he spent his youth in a town near Gorinchem, where he worked as a steward for the lords of Arkel, but at the time of his marriage in Amsterdam in 1629, he is described as a “painter, age 25 years”.  His early work bears witness to a variety of influences, including the landscapes of Jochem and Rafael Camphuysern, both natives of Gorinchem, those of Alexander Keirincx and Gillis d’Hondecoeter, and the winter scenes of Esaias van de Velde and Hendrick Avercamp.  Nevertheless, by the early to mid-1640s he had developed a style of his own and begun to focus on the narrow range of subjects that were to dominate his production for the rest of his career: namely winter scenes and river views illuminated by the moon, or the rising or setting sun.  Most of his paintings are composed along broadly similar lines: he usually chose a vantage point looking across a central body of water, with banks, trees and buildings retreating on either side, creating an illusion of depth.  In the foreground, such darkened motifs as stumps of trees, logs, fences, boats and figures serve as repoussoirs further enhancing the sense of spatial recession.  Whilst such compositional schemes had been developed by landscapists several decades earlier, his chief innovations were in his use of coloured light to evoke different atmospheric conditions.  With a few notable exceptions, his scenes are largely imaginary. 

Apparently van der Neer’s work was little appreciated in his lifetime.  Like many artists of his day he was forced to try his hand at other work to make ends meet, but even then, he suffered financial hardship in later life and died in poverty.  It was not until the nineteenth century, when artists of a romantic persuasion turned their attentions to similar atmospheric effects that his works finally received the attention they deserved.


BIOGRAPHY

Aert (Aernout) van der Neer was born in 1603 or 1604 in Gorinchem, a flourishing trading city situated on the river Waal, to the east of Rotterdam and south of Utrecht.  He was the son of Egerom (or Igrom) Aertsz. van der Neer, a majoor (steward or estate manager) at Fort Suikerberg in Klundert (North Brabant) and his wife, Aeltje Jansdr.  According to Arnold Houbraken, in his youth the artist also served as a majoor for the lords of Arkel, who had an estate in the village of Arkel, just north of Gorinchem.  It is not known where or with whom van der Neer trained as an artist.  However, by 1629, the year he married Lijsbeth Govaertsdr. in Amsterdam, his marriage certificate described him as a “painter 25 years old”.  It seems that the couple had settled in Amsterdam by the early 1630s, but it is possible that van der Neer had moved there several years earlier.  The dates of birth of the couple’s two eldest sons, Eglon, who later became a successful genre painter and Johannes, are not recorded.  However, two other sons, Pieter (1640 – before 1648) and Pieter II (1648 – before 1683) and daughters, Cornelia (1642-1683) and Lijsbeth (1645 – before 1675) were baptised in the Nieuwe Kerk in Amsterdam. 

Like a number of seventeenth-century artists, van der Neer also had a second occupation.  In 1659, he was described as the keeper of a tavern called “de Graeff van Hollant” in the Kalverstraat, with his son Johannes.  On 25 January 1662 he was again mentioned in a list of innkeepers, but on 12 December the same year declared bankruptcy.  In an inventory of his possessions drawn up at that time, his own paintings were appraised at relatively low values, mostly five guilders or less.  He continued to paint, living in a state of extreme poverty on the Kerkstraat, until his death on 9 November 1677. 

P.M.


Aert van der Neer

Gorinchem? c. 1603/04 – 1677 Amsterdam

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