With this charming small panel, depicting a herdsman driving his cattle through a sodden gully, Ruysdael is at his narrative best. To the right, on top of the dune, a huntsman hoists a hare triumphantly in to the air; below, the herd's sedate journey through the mire is rudely interrupted by one of their kind mounting another. Ruysdael here transcends the normally placid and inoffensive nature of landscape painting by injecting it with the mischievousness of the narrative genre scene, usually confined to human misbehaviour and, more specifically, to the actions of leering or drunken peasants.
The stark contrasts of light, notably between the bright sky over the horizon and the shadows of the left foreground, together with the rapid, expressive brushwork, are entirely typical of Ruysdael's later years. The arrangement of the composition along a strong diagonal is however a motif that he employs throughout his career; beginning lower right and sweeping left and backwards to a horizon broken only by two small trees and the chimney smoke from the cottage, his diagonal here achieves an immense sense of depth, aided by the sharply receding sky.
Wolfgang Stechow strangely neglects to include this work in his 1975 catalogue raisonné on the artist, despite its having extremely similar provenance to his cat. no. 3021; both works were offered, Amsterdam, Frederik Muller, 25 April 1911, as consecutive lots (95 and 96) and both seem to have found their way into the collection of the Englishman R. Page-Croft, the present work being sold by him, 19 July 1974 (see Provenance) and Stechow's cat. no. 302 a month earlier on 28 June (London, Christie's, lot 15). Although of starkly different subjects, the confusion is probably due to his identifying the two works as one and the same on the basis of their coincidental provenances.
The old reproduction in the sale of 1911, shows that the motif of the mounting cow was overpainted at the time.
1 See W. Stechow, Salomon van Ruysdael, Berlin 1975, p. 113, cat. no. 302.
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