Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Paulus Potter

Figures with Horses by a Stable
oil on panel
45 x 38 cm
Museum of Art, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA

In the shaded yard in front of a stable, a man attempts to mount his horse with the assistance of another man. The woman standing next to them has momentarily turned her attention away from the infant she is nursing in order to watch the scene.

Paulus Potter (1625-1654) is a Dutch painter and etcher. He was a pioneer in the painting of landscapes with animals. He created portraits of animals, making them his picture's focus, not just a backdrop for human action. Animals appear prominently in all of his works, sometimes singly but usually in small groups silhouetted against the sky, or in greater numbers with peasant figures and rustic buildings in an extensive landscape.

He was born at Enkhuizenand and probably trained by his father. Farm scenes and small-scale paintings of animals became popular in Holland from the middle of the 17th century. He is said to have wandered the Dutch countryside, sketchbook in hand, equally sensitive to how farm animals behave at different times of day and to light's vicissitudes from morning to dusk. Few of his contemporaries were more attuned to nature's moods or to the timeless harmony of beast, landscape, and weather. His strong feeling for composition is seen in the way he grouped forms and used silhouette. His most successful paintings are small.

When he died of tuberculosis before he was thirty years old, he had already profoundly influenced the way animals are depicted in European art.