Aernout van der Neer

Missing image
Landscape with Windmill (1647-49); Oil on wood; 69,5 x 92,5 cm. The Hermitage, St. Petersburg

Aernout van der Neer (1603 - January 9, 1677), commonly called Aert or Artus, was the contemporary of Albert Cuyp and Hobbema, and so far like the latter that he lived and died in comparative obscurity.

Aernout was born at Gorinchem and died at Amsterdam. Houbraken's statement that Aernout had been a steward to a Dutch nobleman, and an amateur painter, before he settled in Amsterdam and acquired skill with his brush, would account for the absence of any pictures dating from his early years. He died in abject poverty, and his art was so little esteemed that the pictures left by him were valued at about five shillings apiece. Even as early as 1659 he found it necessary to supplement his income by keeping a wine tavern.

The earliest pictures in which Aernout coupled his monogram of A. V. and D. N. interlaced with a date are a winter landscape in the Rijksmuseum at Amsterdam (dated 1639), and another in the Martins collection at Kiel (1642) immature works both, of poor quality. Far better is the Winter Landscape (1643) in Lady Wantage's collection, and the Moonlight Scene (1644) in the d'Arenberg collection in Brussels.

In 1652 Aernout witnessed the fire which consumed the old town-hall of Amsterdam. He made this accident the subject for two or three pictures, now in the galleries of Berlin and Copenhagen. Though Amsterdam appears to have been constantly van der Neer's domicile, his pictures tell that he was well acquainted with the canals and woods about Haarlem and Leiden, and with the reaches of the Maes and Rhine. Dordrecht, the home of Albert Cuyp, is sometimes found in his pictures, and substantial evidence exists that there was friendship between the two men. At some period of their lives they laid their hands to the same canvases, on each of which they left their joint mark. On some it was the signature of the name, on others the more convincing signature of style. There are landscapes in the collections of the dukes of Bedford and Westminster, in which Cuyp has represented either the frozen Maes with fishermen packing herrings, or the moon reflecting its light on the rivers placid waters. These are models after which van der Neer appears to have worked.

Missing image
Moonlit Landscape with Bridge, one of van der Neer's "nocturnes" (night scenes) (1648-1650); oil on panel; 78.4 x 110.2 cm (30 7/8 x 43 3/8 in.); on display, the National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C.

The same feeling and similar subjects are found in Cuyp and van der Neer, before and after their partnership, but Cuyp was the leading genius. Van der Neer got assistance from him; Cuyp expected none from van der Neer. He carefully enlivened his friends pictures, when asked to do so, with figures and cattle. It is in pictures jointly produced by then that we discover van der Neers presence at Dordrecht. We are near Dordrecht in the landscape sunset of the Louvre, in which Cuyp evidently painted the foreground and cows. In the National Gallery, London picture Cuyp signs his name on the pail of a milkmaid, whose figure and red skirt he has painted with light effectiveness near the edge of van der Neer's landscape. Again, a couple of fishermen with a dog, and a sportsman creeping up to surprise some ducks, are Cuyp's in a capital van der Neer at the Staedel Institute in Frankfort.

Van der Neer's favourite subjects were the rivers and watercourses of his native country either at sunset or after dark. His peculiar skill is shown in realizing transparence which allows objects even distant to appear in the darkness with varieties of warm brown and steel greys. Another of his fancies is to paint frozen water, and his daylight icescapes with golfers, sleighers, and fishermen are as numerous as his moonlights. But he always avoids the impression of frostiness, which is one of his great gifts.

His pictures are not scarce. They are less valuable in the market than those of Cuyp or Hobbema; but, possessing a charm peculiarly their own, they are much sought after by collectors. Out of about one hundred and fifty pictures accessible to the public, the choicest selection is in the Hermitage at St Petersburg. In England paintings from his brush are to be found at the National Gallery and Wallace Collection, and, amongst others, in the collections of the marquess of Bute and Colonel Holford.


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