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Cattle in a Field, with Travellers in a Wagon on a Track Beyond and

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Paulus Potter was one of the greatest painters of the Dutch Golden Age.  His singular contribution to Dutch 17th Century art was that he painted portraits of animals, making them the focus of his pictures, rather than as a backdrop for human action.  His career spanned only twelve years, from which barely four dozen pictures, most of them painted between 1646 and 1653, have come down to us, and his early death in his thirtieth year robbed Dutch painting of one of its greatest talents.  As a result, his works have always been both rare and sought-after.\nThis picture, described by Edwin Buijsen in the catalogue of the landmark Paulus Potter exhibition (see Literature) as "undoubtedly one of the high points of Potter's oeuvre" was painted towards the end of  Potter's career.  Potter deliberately chose cattle of different colours, and thus presumably of different breeds, giving his picture greater diversity within a compostion whose unity is never compromised by his attention ot detail.  Thus distinguished one from another, each animal attracts our attention, and Potter captures each one superbly: the heavy-lidded brown ox nearest to us, who could fall asleep at any moment; the recumbant cow to the left, who is gazing at the viewer with narrowed eyes (this beast recurs in a lost work by Potter also of 1652 formely in the collection of Marcus Kappel, Berlin about 100 years ago); the more watchful standing beasts beyond, looking at the coach on the road, or more likely listening for the thunder from the approaching storm that will force them all to seek shelter, or the two younger heifers further off having a tussle and ignoring everyone else.  As Edwin Buijsen put it "One can almost feel the downy hairs, gleaming horns and moist noses".\n\nWidely accepted as the best of Potter’s output from 1652, Buijsen describes this picture as superior to both the Louvre picture of 1652 from the collection of Louis XIV and to the Dresden painting of Cattle at Rest in a Meadow, which shares many compositional affinities with it, including the low horizon point, the recumbant cow under the tree and the anchoring element of the tree at the right hand side of the composition.\nPotter's clear understanding of composition is seen in the way he grouped forms and used silhouettes.  The arrangement and poses of the cows in this composition follow what Buijsen describes as a "zigzag movement," deliberately leading the viewers eye from the cows to the peasant cart on the distant path.  The dark clouds rolling in and the brooding posture of the two cows lying down suggest there is a storm approaching and impart a sense of drama to this otherwise calm pastoral scene.  Despite its small size the composition, with its low horizon and the cows silhouetted against the stormy sky, gives an impression of monumentality.  This is a characteristic often noted of Potter's pictures, in which attention to detail reinforces rather than undermines the sense of solidity of form that stems from the careful ordering of composition.\nAll Potter's pictures apart from a handful of his earliest works, are set in countryside that he would have known well, within half a day's walk of Delft, where he may have lived for a while in the 1640s, or The Hague, where he lived from 1649 to 1652, the date of this work.  Despite continuing urban encroachment, we can still easily recognise these landscapes today, especially when travelling by train, when the open flat pasture interspersed with surprisingly frequent and dense groves of trees can be best appreciated.  The shock of reconition of a "Potter" landscape is all the more forceful if Potter-like atmospheric conditions prevail: warm raking evening light , as in the Hermitage Farmyard, or a lowering rain-bearing cloud which renders baleful the sunlit foreground of the present painting.  In some of Potter's landscapes actual sites can be identified, such as the village of Rijswijck between Delft and The Hague seen in the background of Potter's famous The Bull in the Mauritshuis, The Hague.  Amy Walsh has plausibly suggested that the church steeple in the background of the present picture is based on that of the Reformed Church in Voorschoten, then a village between The Hague and Leiden, but now a suburb of The Hague. This church, with Its distinctive four corner turrets and narrow spire familiar to us from landscapes by Potter’s contemporaries active in the Hague, such as Jan van Goyen and Jacob van der Croos, also occurs in the background of Potter's etching of The Frisian horse, one of five etchings of horses also made in 1652, in which the subject is also seen before a brooding sky (see B. Broos in Amy Walsh et al, 1995, under Literature, pp. 194-6, no. 48 III, reproduced).  The process of etching has reversed the church.\nThis picture has a very distinguished provenance which is unbroken from 1758 to the present day.  In the 17th Century it may have remained in The Hague where it was painted, in the collection of Obdam van Wassenaer.  In the 18th Century it belonged to the greatest of all French collectors of Dutch pictures, the Duc de Choiseul, and remained in France in a series of distinguished cabinets until 1837, when it passed to Prince Demidoff, in Florence.  After the dispersal of his collection in 1868, it returned to France and entered the collections of one of the French branches of the Rothschild family.  By 1924 it belonged to Anton Philips, the electrical magnate from Eindhoven, in whose family it remained until sold in 1995 to the present owner.\nA copy was in the collection of Hugo Engleson, Malmö, Sweden.\nSigned and dated lower left Paulus Potter. F. : 1652


Oil on panel


Paulus Pietersz. Potter


14 3/4 by 22 in.; 37.5 by 56 cm.


The Hague, Mauritshuis, The Pleasures of Paulus Potter's Countryside, November 8, 1994 - February 5, 1995, no. 26.


J. Smith, A Catalogue Raisonné of the Works of the Most Eminent, Dutch and Flemish Painters, V, London 1834, pp. 137-8, no. 44; IX, London 1842, pp. 626-7, no. 24 ("This capital production is painted throughout with the most elaborate care."); C. Blanc, Le trésor de la curiosité tiré des catalogues de vente, Paris 1857-8, II, pp. 161, 193, and 424; C. Hofstede de Groot, A Catalogue Raisonné of the Most Eminent Dutch Painters of the Seventeenth Century, IV, London 1912, p. 607, no. 45; A. L. Walsh, Paulus Potter: his works and their meaning, (unpublished dissertation), Columbia University, New York 1985, pp. 243, 245 and 381, fig. B79; E. Buijsen, in A. L. Walsh, B. Broos and E. Buijsen, The Pleasures of Paulus Potter's Countryside, exhibition catalogue, Mauritshuis, The Hague, 1994, pp. 138-40, no. 26, reproduced p.139 and on the cover of the catalogue.


Possibly Jacob, H.R.R. graaf van Wassenaer, baanderheer van Wassenaar, heer van Obdam (1635-1714), The Hague; Louis-César-Renaud de Choiseul, Duc de Choiseul-Praslin (1735-1791), Paris by 1758; His sale, Paris, Paillet, February 18, 1793, lot 70, for 28,200 francs, to Le Brun Jr.; François-Antoine Robit (c.1752-1815), Paris; His sale, Paris, Paillet, May 11, 1801, lot 94, for 29,7000 francs, sold to Ferréol de Bonnemaison (1766-1826) on behalf of, Armand Séguin (1765-1835); Charles-Ferdinand d'Artois, Duc de Berri (1778-1820), Paris, His posthumous sale, London, Christie's, April 1834, lot 91, there unsold; His widow, Caroline-Ferdinande-Louise de Bourbon, Duchesse de Berri (1798- after 1833); Her sale, Paris, M. Bataillard, April 4, 1837, there purchased for 37,000 francs by; Prince Anatole Demidoff, San Donato, Florence; His sale, Paris, April 18, 1868, lot 10, for 112,000 francs to Mundler for J. Rothschild; Baron James Mayer de Rothschild, Paris (1792-1868), by bequest 1886 to his wife; Baroness Betty de Rothschild (1805-1886), Paris, by bequest to her son; Baron Mayer Alphonse de Rothschild (1827-1905), by bequest 1905 to his wife; Baroness Leonora de Rothschild (1837-1911), Paris, by bequest in 1911 to her daughter; Charlotte Beatrice de Rothschild, later Baroness Maurice Ephrussi (1864-1934), Paris; Anonymous sale, Paris, Georges Petit, July 3, 1920, lot 25; Anton F. Philips, Eindhoven, by 1924, thence by bequest to his son, Frederik (Frits) J. Philips (b. 1905), Eindhoven; Thence probably by descent until anonymously sold (`The Property of a Gentleman'), London, Christie's, July 7, 1995, lot 39, for £600,000 to the present owner.


Signed and dated lower left Paulus Potter. F. : 1652


Enkhuizen 1625 - 1654 Amsterdam

*Note: The price is not recalculated to the current value. It refers to the actual final price at the time the item was sold.

*Note: The price is not recalculated to the current value. It refers to the actual final price at the time the item was sold.

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