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A Concert in a Public Square

Nicolaes Berchem

(1620 - 1683) | 847.1

| Medium : Oil on canvas

Nicolaes  Berchem was one of the great 17th-century painters of Italianate pastoral scenes. He formed part of the second generation of Dutch painters of this type who, like Philips Wouverman, were influenced by the group of Northern European painters based in Rome in the 1620s, the ‘Bentveughels’, and by Pieter van Laer in particular. Berchem specialised in landscapes and enjoyed rapid success, producing over 850 paintings during his career. His work was to become the sine qua non of any self-respecting great art collection in the 18th century.

Nevertheless he only left the Netherlands and his home town of Haarlem on two occasions: towards the end of his life from 1677 to 1683, and in the years between 1661 and 1670, when Haarlem was suffering from an economic crisis. The painting now in the Rouen collection dates back to this earlier period, when Nicolaes Berchem took his inspiration in Amsterdam from the paintings of Jan Baptist Weenix, who had launched the fashion for port views with considerable success a few years previously. 

True to his habitual style, Berchem takes up a subject already treated and adapts it with verve. Here a series of figures of monumental stature take centre-stage, relegating the waterside scene into the background. Above all, however, the painter treats this port panorama with the outstanding craftsmanship that makes his work instantly recognisable. His rapid, dynamic and extremely light touch gives the characters and animals depicted a sense of movement that ties them into the rest of the composition, while the palette is dominated by vivid colours with a marvellous sheen. The use of warm, diffuse light in the manner of Van Laer permeates and unifies the entire scene, making an enduring contribution to this painting’s particular charm. We suddenly find ourselves wondering how much the work of Nicolaes Berchem may well have inspired the likes of Jean-Honoré Fragonard and François Boucher.