Karel Dujardin

(Amsterdam 1626 - 1678 Venice)

The Scratching Post

Signed and dated, lower left: K. DU. IARDIN fe. / 1656
Oil on panel, 11⅛ x 13½  ins. (30 x 34.3 cm)



Sir Henry St John Carew-Mildmay, 4th Baronet (1787-1848), Dogmersfield Park, Hampshire.
Anonymous sale; Skinner, Boston, 7 September 2012, lot 303, where acquired by the previous owner.
Private collection, USA, until 2021.
Anonymous sale, Christie’s New York, 14 October 2021, lot 112.


In this signed and dated painting of 1656, three young bullocks are depicted in an Italianate landscape.  Viewed from a low vantage point, the animals appear silhouetted against a backdrop of grey, billowing clouds.  The ground beneath their hooves is parched and stony, with patches of short-cropped grass.  The white bullock on the left is enjoying a good scratch against a wooden post, while its companions stand placidly by.  The reddish-brown one gazes lazily in the direction of the viewer, while the other is turned away, looking into the distance.  The artist has succeeded in capturing the warm hazy atmosphere of a hot afternoon.  The stormy sky adds a note of drama to the otherwise peaceful scene.  The sensitive portrayal of light is typical of Dujardin, as are the carefully observed behaviour of the animals and the attention to such details as the white bullock’s stubby mane and the ruffled hair on its neck and flanks.

Although best known today as a painter of Italianate landscapes, Karel Dujardin was in fact unusually talented in a variety of genres.  His repertoire of subjects includes Italian street scenes, animals, portraits, and history paintings, some on a monumental scale.  He also produced drawings and etchings, mostly of farm animals. 

Much of Dujardin’s oeuvre displays an Italianate character, although a putative trip to Italy early in his career cannot be verified.  Jennifer Kilian argues in her authoritative monograph on the artist, that the young Dujardin could well have been introduced to the Italianate manner by other artists who had made the long and arduous journey to Italy.  During his formative years, he would certainly have encountered the work of the so-called second generation of Dutch Italianates, who had returned from Italy in the late 1630s and 1640s.  His scenes of Italian street life and his animal pieces, for example, clearly attest to the influence of the Haarlem artist Pieter van Laer (1599-1642 or after), who had returned home from Rome around 1639, while his landscapes owe a strong debt to the pastoral scenes of Nicolaes Berchem (1621/22-83), who had also very likely seen the Italian campagna with his own eyes.  Whether or not Dujardin drew upon first-hand experiences, he was nevertheless brilliantly adept at capturing the clear, golden light of Italy in his own work.  In 1675, at the age of nearly fifty, Dujardin made a well-documented trip to Italy, however, it was to be his last: after a sojourn in Rome, he went to Venice in 1678, where he succumbed to an infection and died. 

Luminous landscapes with wandering animals and their herders constitute the bulk of Dujardin’s output.  In the 1650s and early 1660s, he painted a number of compositions on a small scale, in which animals play a major role, like the present example.  These are closely related to the small, cabinet-sized paintings of livestock in sunny pastures by his close contemporary, Paulus Potter (1625-1654).  Dujardin was no doubt very familiar with the work of Potter, who lived and worked in Amsterdam from 1652 until his premature death in 1654.  The evident similarities between their works suggest that the two not only shared sources, but may also have exerted a mutual influence on each other. 

A gifted draughtsman, Dujardin made a number of beautifully observed studies, often in black chalk, of cattle, sheep and other animals.  Such drawings provided him with a stock of motifs which he used in the preparation of his paintings and some of them served as the basis for his own etchings.  In 1653, he published a series of etchings of resting animals, shepherds and other pastoral motifs, which were close in conception to Pieter van Laer’s influential series of animal prints of 1636.  This series also provided the starting point for a series of prints of cattle and horses by Potter, which appeared in 1650 and 1652 respectively.  Although no preparatory drawing for the present painting is known, the neck-scratching bull and its companion are the subject of an etching by Dujardin, dated 1655, in which the animals are depicted in reverse[i]. 

It was also not uncommon for Dujardin to recycle successful motifs in more than one of his compositions.  An example of this repetition of motifs, is the white bullock on the left in our painting which recurs in A Landscape with a Shepherd in the Mauritshuis, in The Hague[ii], or the reddish-brown cow, on the right in our painting, which reappears in A Peasant Girl milking a Cow, in the Nationalmuseum, in Stockholm[iii]. 

Because this painting had not been on the market for a long time until very recently, it was unknown to Jennifer Kilian when she published her Catalogue Raisonné of the paintings of Karel Dujardin in 2005.  However, she has however subsequently endorsed the attribution on the basis of photographs.


The son of Charles Dujardin, a smeersmeltrer (candle maker), Karel Dujardin was baptised in the Lutheran Church in Amsterdam on 27 September, 1626.  The artists’ biographer Arnold Houbraken reported that he was a pupil of the Italianate painter Nicolaes Berchem in Haarlem, however, this cannot be verified from documentary sources.  It has often been speculated that Dujardin travelled to Italy in the late 1640s or early 1650s, yet no proof for such a trip exists.  In 1649, he was living in Paris where on 24 December he married Susanna van Royen, a widow, originally from Antwerp, who was more than twenty years his senior and the landlady of a Paris inn that was popular with artists from the Netherlands.  By 1651, Dujardin appears to have returned to Amsterdam and, in 1652, he was living with his wife on the Rozengracht, where they both made a will on 15 September.  The couple were still in Amsterdam in 1655, but a year later Dujardin moved to The Hague, where he became a founder member of the Confrérie Pictura, a breakaway group of artists from the local Guild of St. Luke.  In 1657, he joined the militia company the Colombyne Vendel in The Hague.  By 1659, he was back in Amsterdam, where his career flourished.  During this period, he continued to paint southern landscapes, but also received commissions for portraits of the city’s patrician elite, as well as history paintings.  In 1670, he was able to purchase two properties on the Kerkstraat, and in 1673, was living on the Nieuwe Keizersgracht. 

In 1675, Dujardin went to Italy in the company of Gerard and Abraham van Reynst, whose father Joan Reynst had assembled an important collection of Venetian sixteenth-century paintings.  They travelled by sea, stopping briefly in Algiers, before continuing their journey to Rome.  According to Houbraken, while in Rome, Dujardin became friendly with the painter Johannes Glauber (1646-1726), and was given the Bent nickname, Bokkebaard (goatsbeard), although he does not appear to have joined the Bentvuegels (Birds of a Feather)association of northern artists.  In 1678, he travelled to Venice, where he found lodgings with a Dutch merchant in whose house he fell ill with a fever and died.  He was buried in Venice on 9 October 1678.  Back in Amsterdam, unaware of her husband’s death, his wife Suzanne herself died a few days later and was buried on 17 October in the Nieuwezijds Kapel. 

Dujardin was highly esteemed during his lifetime and his work commanded high prices.  He was praised by Cornelis de Bie’s 1661 biography of celebrated artists and, in 1672, his painting of the Crucifixion (Paris, Louvre) was the subject of a laudatory poem by the famous Dutch poet Jan Vos.  Despite his humble origins, in later life Dujardin lived in a house on Amsterdam’s fashionable Keizersgracht and, judging from an inventory of his possessions, enjoyed a considerable degree of wealth.  In his self-portrait (Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam) of 1662, he portrayed himself as an elegant gentleman without references to his profession. 

[i] Karel Dujardin, Two Bulls, 1655, etching, 153 x 179 mm, British Museum, inv. no. J,28.47. . 

[ii] Karel Dujardin, Landscape with a Shepherdess, oil on panel, 40 x 32 cm, Royal Picture Gallery Mauritshuis, The Hague, inv. no. 74. 

[iii] Karel Dujardin, Peasant Girl milking a Cow, oil on canvas, 66 x 59 cm, Nationalmuseum, Stockholm, inv. no. NM485.