Hagar and Ishmael in the Wilderness, ca.1662
A lesser known Dutch Master, Karel Dujardin was born on September 27, 1622 in Amsterdam. Although active during the Dutch Golden Age he spent most of his career in Italy where he developed a rather diverse style ranging from moody landscapes to religious Baroque subjects. Dujardin is hard to pin down for this very reason, as his travels must have been extensive one can see the vast influences that permeate his work. In fact, much of his work doesn't even appear to be from the same artist yet indeed it is. It is this kind of miscellany that is fascinating to me, especially being able to handle the landscape and religious figures with the same fervor since most artists did either one or the other.
In Hagar and Ishmael in the Wilderness above we see the tenebrist influence of Caravaggio yet is stylistically quite distinct from other Italian artwork of this sort. Dujardin uses a triangular arrangement of the figures, with a notable use of red and blue, and some white. Note the attention to drapery here, especially how it shimmers in the blue of Hagar's robe, winding around her arm and down her side. The light here is coming from the left of the painting, like a spotlight, and we see the reflected light on the baby angel's face, yet on the adult angel above his face is largely in shadow. The arrangement of arms and legs shows an artist thinking at all times. A unusually mysterious work, Dujardin attention to faces make this painting worth studying acutely.
Rest Before an Italian Tavern, 1650's
Shifting gears now, Dujardin creates a rustic world of dominant horizontal planes and strong atmospheric perspective. Note the warm foreground colors and how they contrast to the cool greens in the distance. In the midst of this serene landscape, Dujardin places his figures in a long triangular arrangement with distinct body language in each figure, and individual facial expressions in the figures facing us. Note how the men on horses are foreshortened, creating a sense of space to add visual interest in an otherwise empty foreground. It has the feel of a scene from a film. Look carefully at the figures in the background in the lake, at how real they seem. Dujardin fully absorbed all the influences of his day in Italy, making his style more Italian than Dutch, but with the serene objective eye of his Dutch roots.
Morra players, 1678
Another breathtaking landscape, Dujardin creates a sense of space again with his foreground figures on the ground this time, playing a game of morra. Diagonally to the right we see a couple of figures with horses near an arch, creating another sense of space, and if we look again diagonally Dujardin creates more figures leading to an atmospheric perspective on the middle right of the painting. This is a very complex composition of horizontal, vertical and diagonals, alternating straight with broken line, small shapes with big shapes, and natural vs architectural objects. Dujardin has created within all this complexity a rural scene with old ruins and a peaceful blue sky. This is not merely the work of a copycat or second-rate Dutch artist.
St Paul Healing the Cripple at Lystra, 1663
In this painting Dujardin effortlessly weaves Mannerism and Baroque with a hint of Venetian color sensibility. The faces here, however, are all Dutch. Just look at how he arranges the figures on the left in a semi-circle around St. Paul to create a sense of space in this tight vertical composition. The cripple on his knees is painted in superb skin tones and graceful brushstrokes, combining greys and oranges in his palette with deep yellow highlights. Take note of St. Paul's hands: Dujardin makes them look completely natural, which is incredibly difficult to do (another artist who painted hands well was Guido Reni). The selection of two warms for his robes, a dark orange and a red, is somewhat odd in that they typically clash when placed together yet here, placed against a shadowy ground and dark background sky it doesn't. St. Paul's face is also striking, which also takes the attention away from the colors.
Landscape in the Roman Campagna, 1675
A caravan of peasants create perspective against a very warm foreground of a late afternoon sun. Dujardin is an innate storyteller, as this again looks like a scene from an epic film. Note how he creates space again by placing the foreground figures on the right closer to our eye, and has the man pointing back to the caravan to keep our eye from wandering off to the right of the painting. Note the interesting array of animals and characters in this painting, as if Dujardin knows them all personally. The cool grey-yellow tones of the sky above add a deep sense of haze and atmosphere to this rustic scene.
Cows and Sheep at a Stream, 1656
A scene that seems to conjure up fables and biblical stories, Dujardin has created an incredibly detailed scene of astonishing eden-like beauty with no apparent subject, and yet it is truly amazing. Dujardin must have had a profound love of nature and animals. Here Dujardin uses light to create the composition using diagonals and verticals with superb color harmony and striking textures. Note the lack of deep greens in this painting. What adds drama to this serene idyll is the distant towering cumulonimbus cloud, suggesting this moment of peace will be short-lived by future events, and all of the animals portrayed here will become domesticated food for society.
The Conversion of Paul, 1662
A work that seems to channel Raphael, Michelangelo and Da Vinci in its sheer force but with the dramatic light of the Baroque, Dujardin's effortless ability to arrange figures, intertwine them practically, with his understanding of space and diagonal line is spectacular. This is a Renaissance painting in a Baroque context. One gets the sense that Dujardin was rushed to complete this work, as the attention to figures is not up to his usual level but the result is still amazing. Dujardin's triangles are all over this painting, and he knows exactly how to utilize them by using light and color to direct our eyes.
Italianate Landscape with Travellers on Horseback, 1675
Utilizing a high vantage point, Dujardin takes advantage of an uncommon view to devise a landscape of rolling hills and atmospheric perspective with beautiful light effects. Note again the diagonal placement of his figures in groups leading off to the right. The painting is simple yet one could stare at it for hours. Dujardin knew that pulling the viewer into his paintings is the primary goal by creating space within space, and figures that are doing something, that seem real. One of the most unique artists I have ever discovered, Dujardin is a jewel, a very rare breed that had few limits to his powers.