Barend Cornelis Koekkoek's reputation reached far and wide during his lifetime and he received several awards. In 1840 King Willem II of the Netherlands purchased a painting by Koekkoek, 'Het boslandschap met stoffage van boeren en vee', for which Koekkoek received two golden medals in The Hague in 1839 and in Paris in 1840.
King Willem II had been a passionate art collector since the age of 23 and when was crowned in 1840 he decided to expand his palace in The Hague with halls and galleries to exhibit his extensive art collection. In 1845 he commissioned a series of nine paintings by Koekkoek, favouring him above all other landscape painters.
Koekkoek accompanied the King on a journey to Luxembourg in 1845, because his assignment was to paint landscapes of the grand duchy that was connected with the Dutch royal family through a personal union (1815-1890). Koekkoek himself wrote down on his sketchbook: 'In het jaar 1845 met de Koning van Hollandt naar Luxemburg geweest'. In the Kunstkronijk of 1846 the commission was officially announced as such:
'Tijdens zijner Majesteits verblijf in het Groothertogdom Luxemburg bevond zich aldaar de heer B.C. Koekkoek uit Kleef. Meermalen vergezelde de kunstenaar den vorstelijken hofstoet bij herhaalde pleiziertogtjes naar buiten, en ontwierp dan studien en schetsen van de schoonste partijen en gezichten. Thans verneemt men dat het Z.M. behaagt heeft den beroemden landschapsschilder een negental schilderijen ter vervaardiging op te dragen, alleen tafreelen uit het Luxemburgsche en speciaal H.D. partikuliere domeinen. De verdienstelijke meester zal ongetwijfeld deze eervolle taak geheel zijner waardig vervullen'.
Depicting various scenes of the duchy, Koekkoek concentrated mainly on sights of architectural interest; only two of the nine works exclusively depict a landscape. Widespread views are central in all the compositions, as edifices are never prevailing. The architecture only stands out because of the compositional lines Koekkoek used to guide the viewer: he depicted figures that look or point to the far-away landscape, enhancing architecture using light effects, while other parts of the composition is depicted in the shade. The landscape of Luxembourg provided Koekkoek with a different way of painting: because of the undulating surroundings, Koekkoek could use a higher horizon than he was used to in the flat land of the Netherlands. With a high horizon, the artist could depict a larger spectrum of the countryside.
The present lot shows an extensive landscape at sunset seen from a hilltop, looking over a wide valley with the castle Hollenfels and its borough in the distance. Different from Koekkoek's other works is the precise topography. As the painting was commissioned, Koekkoek could not change elements if he wanted to, instead creating a very truthful representation for King Willem II. He did include an almost emblematic pastoral scene in the foreground with a man, frontally depicted and a woman with a small child on her lap, looking towards the village.
Compared to his Dutch landscapes, this painting is more dramatic and romantic: diffuse golden light shines through the trees on the left and very long shadows are given to the animals in the valley. The depth of perspective is overwhelming. In the present lot, Koekkoek not only directs the viewer through a number of impressive light effects and charming figures, but also through the deep curving lines of the valley. This monumental painting has not been on the artmarket since 1970, thus forming a unique opportunity for collectors to acquire an exceptional work by the Prince of landscape painters.
The authenticity of the present lot has kindly been confirmed by Drs Guido de Werd, director of Haus Koekkoek, Cleves, after firsthand examination.