Laurie Harwood dates this picture circa 1652-3. She notes that it "is characterized by the high degree of refinement in the minute rendering of details used to describe staffage, foreground trees and bracken, although fully reminiscent of his earlier representations of trees in sunlight." More than any of the other Dutch Italianate painters, Pynacker was more than anything a masterful painter of sunlight. As Dr Harwood goes on to observe, here he "has fully exploited the effects of the oblique angle of the late afternoon's rays of sun as they strike the craggy branches of the great oak, and pick out details in the foreground."
Unusually, Pynacker has used a strong colour in the centre of the composition, perhaps as a compositional anchor, where he has given the man playing with his dog a crimson coat. Apart from the cool blue of the fellow's breeches, this is the only colour that is not a yellow or green in the entire composition. This is the first occasion in which Pynacker did this, and the most striking, but he does use strong colours, usually red or blue, in some of his pictures from later in the 1650s.
Pynacker is linked on strong grounds of style with the Dutch Italianate painters, and his first biographer Houbraken claimed he spent three years in Italy. There is no documentary proof of such a trip, but if he did go, it is most likely to have been between 1645-8, when there are no records of his presence in Holland. By the time he painted the Nijstad picture, he was living in Schiedam or Delft, where he remained until circa 1661.
The subject of this picture has caused some head-scratching in the past. We see a man resting under an oak tree by a forest path, playing with his dog who is partly turned on his back. Next to them is a basket, and the goats grazing indicate that he is a goatherd. The composition was engraved with the enigmatic title The Humane Traveller, and it has been suggested that the picture may depict a Biblical subject such as the Parable of the Good Shepherd. It may well be however that it is merely a particularly charming genre picture.
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