Wallraf-Richartz-Museum & Fondation Corboud

A couple of cows are grazing peacefully on the meadow, but up above them dark, menacing storm clouds have gathered and are now sending a mighty thunderbolt hurtling down to earth in a wild zigzag. It is almost as if one could hear the accompanying clap of thunder, that is how stunningly Aelbert Cuyp painted the scene almost 400 years ago in his Storm over Dordrecht. And yet another of his paintings, Fishing Boats by Moonlight from 1645, could scarcely be more different, for here he has imbued the work with a wonderful tranquillity and nocturnal allure.

The two Cuyp paintings are excellent examples of the large and diverse role that the sky and the weather played in Netherlandish landscape painting during the Baroque, which is why they are the centre of a new presentation from the collection at the Wallraf-Richartz-Museum. Under the Motto Sunny with Cloudy Intervals, the Cologne museum is showing twenty “sky portraits” by masters such as Cuyp, van der Neer, Ruisdael and Goyen.

In the late sixteenth century, the Netherlandish painters began to paint the heavens not simply as a backdrop, as was usually the case, but instead transformed them into a grand stage occupying up to 80 percent of the canvas. Here the painters let nature’s spectacular manifestations parade past. Sheet lightning, cloud vortices or the blazing heat of the sun exerted a great fascination on the public. At the same time the artists could cast their mountain, forest or river scenes in different moods. For this they studied the various weather phenomena very exactly, beginning long before science took note of them. The Wallraf is showing “Sunny with Cloudy Intervals” from 1 June 2017 to 2 February 2018 in its Baroque section on the museum’s second floor.