Aelbert Cuyp
(Dordrecht, 1620-1691, Dordrecht)
Thunderstorm over Dordrecht, ca. 1645
Oil on panel, 77.5 x 107 cm
Signed lower right: A. Cuyp
Chong 61
This is the way cities appeared in the 17th century, before industrialization and urbanization of the landscape: Visible from afar, they loomed up before the traveller and the peasant – dense solid structures formed out of the amorphous countryside. The low huddle of houses was accented by the towers of church, town-hall and by windmills. We view Dordrecht from afar, standing in the Dutch lowlands, the home city of the painter: he frequently depicted it in the background of his pictures. The massive church is the Grote Kerk; farther to the left is the town-hall. The actual motif here, however, is not the vastness of the landscape, nor the skyline of the town, not even the enormous sky, but a climatic drama, which must often have inspired fear. From the left, heavy grey rain clouds sweep across the picture. Rain is falling in sheets, to the left of the church. To the right, the sky is still pale-blue. Lightning is striking, in precisely observed, thick yellow streaks and not in naively imagined zig-zags. The distant houses are lividly illuminated. In the foreground, cows (two of them seem to be spotlighted) and a horse patiently wait out the storm. This picture seems to occupy a special place in the winning of the natural landscape for painting. It is one of the first representations of the thunderstorm purely as a natural phenomenon independently of content (e.g. a destruction of Sodom). This is an early work by Cuyp, as shown by the yellowish-grey tone and heavy brush-work, betraying the influence of Jan van Goyen. Seeing this picture in 1834, John Constable exclaimed: "truly sublime".